The Nightingale and the Rose

by Oscar Wilde

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What is your critical review of "The Nightingale and the Rose"?

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To do a critical review of "The Nightingale and the Rose," start by looking at the themes of the story. Firstly, through the character of the nightingale, Wilde explores the theme of sacrifice. Her love for the student is so strong, for example, that she is prepared to give her life so that he may have a red rose. Note that she sacrifices herself for love, even though the student has no idea of her true feelings.

Secondly, let's look at some symbols in the story. The red rose, for example, is symbolic of true love. The fact that the student cannot find one in his garden demonstrates that his love for the girl is not real. It is only the nightingale who can get the red rose because her love for the student is genuine. In addition, the girl is symbolic of materialism. Her only interest lies in possessions, not in true feelings. This is why she rejects the student in favor of the Chamberlain's nephew: he gives her jewels, and, for her, these have a higher value than a red rose.

Finally, let's look at another literary device in the story: that of personification. Wilde personifies a number of objects from the natural world, including birds and trees. By doing this, he gives the story a fairy tale quality while also creating a contrast between the beauty of the natural world and the materialism of the human, man-made world.

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The Nightingale and the Rose is an allegory to selflessness and selfishness combined, and how one affects the other. In this story, a young student becomes smitten by a young woman who "would only dance with him if he brought her red roses". The cries of the young man, who only had white roses in his garden was heard by a nightingale, who thought he has finally met a "true lover." Hence, the Nightingale sacrifices himself by pressing his heart against the thorn of a white rose, which is symbolic of Wilde's paradigm that love must be sacrificial, maddening, and deadly if it must be. In the end, we realize that both the young woman and the student were the typical Victorian stereotypes that Wilde detested so much: The holier-than-thou types who claim and swear by their feelings, emotions, and beliefs only to deny them later. This means the nightingale made its sacrifice in vain, and that its love may very well be unique (and alone) in the world.

This work by Wilde has been critically reviewed for the possibility that this was Wilde's own cries and inner battles trying to "find new sensations". Wilde was notorious for saying how all sensations must be experienced freely, as his mentor Walter Pater would also avow.

The sacrificial nature of the Bird reflects Wilde himself during his last years, when he sacrificed his freedom for the love of his male lover, against the statutes of Victorian Law. Like the bird, Wilde also did it maybe all in vain—life went on as usual, even after he tried to do the heroic act of working toward acceptance in society.  

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