What are the themes of "The Nightingale and the Rose" by Oscar Wilde?
Oscar Wilde’s story “The Nightingale and the Rose” was published in 1888 in The Happy Prince and Other Tales, a collection of fairy tales for children. In this story, the Student seeks the favor of the professor’s daughter who has promised to dance with him in exchange for a red rose. The Nightingale feels sorry for the student who cannot find a red rose. The bird agrees to sing all night while impaling himself on the thorn of a rose tree in order to give his own blood to create the rose the Student needs. However, the girl rejects the gift of the rose, saying she has received more precious jewels instead. The student throws the rose to the gutter and rejects love in favor of logic and philosophy.
This brief but poignant story explores themes related to sacrifice, love, and materialism. The Nightingale makes the ultimate sacrifice of his own life, believing love a worthy cause. However, this sacrifice is not appreciated. The girl shows materialism in her rejection of the red rose, a symbol of perfect love. The Student shows ungratefulness in his lack of appreciation for the sacrifice made on his behalf. Overall, the story sends a message of protecting oneself and deciding beforehand if a personal sacrifice will be worth the cost.
Oscar Wilde deals with a number of themes in "The Nightingale and the Rose." Perhaps the most obvious theme is love: it drives the plot as the student searches for a red rose in his garden and prompts the nightingale to sacrifice her life. It is also contrasted against academic subjects, like logic, when the student realizes the young girl does not truly love him:
"What a silly thing Love is," said the Student as he walked away. "It is not half as useful as Logic, for it does not prove anything."
Materialism is another theme in the story and is best demonstrated through the character of the young girl. At the beginning, her interest in the student is driven by her desire for a red rose. Later, she turns her attention to the jewels offered by the Chamberlain's nephew. By portraying her in this way, Wilde suggests that materialism is an ugly and worthless attribute. To further reinforce this point, Wilde contrasts the girl's materialism against the good-natured and selfless character of the nightingale.