The Nightingale and the Rose

by Oscar Wilde

Start Free Trial

How does Oscar Wilde use figurative writing in "The Nightingale and the Rose"?

Quick answer:

Oscar Wilde uses language poetically and melodiously in his story “The Nightingale and the Rose.”

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is also worth noting a few other stylistic devices employed by Oscar Wilde in this short story.

There are a number of similes, for example, like "passion has made his face like pale ivory," which are used to evoke strong images in the reader's mind. In this particular example, the colour ivory is contrasted with passion, a feeling we often associate with deep red. This contrast is further reinforced with another simile later on which describes the colour of the white roses: "as white as the foam of the sea."

Wilde also uses an oxymoron to juxtapose the concepts of love and death. This appears in the phrase: "Love that is perfected by Death" and is oxymoronic because love is a human emotion which cannot survive beyond death. But, in using this oxymoron, Wilde emphasises the strength of the nightingale's love for the student. For her, love is everlasting and unconditional and this contrasts sharply with the superficial love depicted through the character of the young girl.

Finally, Wilde uses foreshadowing to hint at the sacrifice the nightingale will make and to help the reader to understand the logic behind her decision. This appears in the line:

What is the heart of a bird compared to the heart of a man?

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Oscar Wilde uses a myriad of literary techniques in "The Nightingale and the Rose" because the purpose of this specific literary work was to produce an allegorical prose which can relate the topic of altruistic and sacrificial love.

Some of the literary techniques that you can encounter in the short story are: Metaphor, since the blood of the nightingale being poured over the white rose symbolically colored the rose red.  Another figure of speech is paradox, since the way that the nightingale was betrayed by the lover for whom he sacrificed his life. Another technique we see is obviously personification in the characteristics that the nightingale portrays, since it is given human and emotional qualities although it is a bird.

Hope it helps a bit!

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Oscar Wilde mock Victorian society in "The Nightingale and the Rose"?  

The previous answer does a fine job of pointing out the ways in which Oscar Wilde satirizes Victorian society in his short story (fable, actually) "The Nightingale and the Rose." The reference to the Student's concept of knowledge as limited to books without incorporating life's lessons and observations is a good example of how Wilde, who regularly mocked the Victorian social mores that would ultimately destroy him, was able to capture the essence of English upper-class pretentiousness. Another example, however, can be found in the Student's reaction to the Nightingale's song and sacrifice on his behalf. The Nightingale has demonstrated extraordinary valor and commitment in her efforts to aid the Student in his quest for love. The Oak-tree, deeply saddened by the Nightingale's imminent demise, laments that it shall never again enjoy the bird's presence in its branches. When the Oak-tree asks for one last song, the Nightingale obliges, "her voice like water bubbling from a silver jar." It is in the Student's reaction to the Nightingale's noble sacrifice that the reader can observe the author's views on Victorian society:

“She has form,” he said to himself, as he walked away through the grove, “that cannot be denied her; but has she got feeling? I am afraid not. In fact, she is like most artists; she is all style, without any sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others. She thinks 5 merely of music, and everybody knows that the arts are selfish. Still, it must be admitted that she has some beautiful notes in her voice. What a pity it is that they do not mean anything, or do any practical good.” And he went into his room, and lay down on his little pallet-bed, and began to think of his love; and, after a time, he fell asleep.

The Student's complete lack of empathy or appreciation for the Nightingale's sacrifice on his behalf--indeed, the unsentimental and thoroughly pretentious manner in which he critiques the Nightingale's song--is very much consistent with the coldness and lack of sentimentalism for which the English upper-class was famous.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Oscar Wilde mock Victorian society in "The Nightingale and the Rose"?  

In "The Nightingale and the Rose," Wilde mocks several aspects of Victorian society. Firstly, through the character of the girl, Wilde satirises contemporary courtship rituals and conceptions of love. That she will only accept a red rose, for example, demonstrates the shallow and materialistic understanding of love among young people of the Victorian middle class. Similarly, Wilde further mocks the middle class when the girl refuses the red rose, on the grounds that it does not match her dress. 

Secondly, Wilde satirises Victorian society when the Nightingale sings of her pending sacrifice to the student. We see this most clearly in the following lines:

The student could not understand what the Nightingale was saying to him, for he only knew the things that were written down in books.

In this example, Wilde mocks the Victorian definition of knowledge and suggests that true knowledge and understanding comes from the everyday world, not just academic books. Had the student grasped this idea, he would have realised the Nightingale's sacrifice and, in turn, understood the real meaning of love.  

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Oscar Wilde use language in his story “The Nightingale and the Rose”?

In his short story “The Nightingale and the Rose,” Oscar Wilde uses language poetically. The text features literary devices often found in poems. One such device is the simile. A simile is when an author compares two unlike things to each other using like, as, or another comparison term. When the Nightingale first spots the young Student, she compares his dark hair to the “hyacinth-blossom,” his red lips to the “rose of his desire,” and his passion to “pale ivory.” The poetic language supplies a vivid image of the Student and conveys the visceral impact that love has left on him.

Like a lot of poems, Oscar Wilde’s short story has rhythm. It’s possible to say that Wilde uses language melodiously. To create melody, Wilde relies on repetition. Throughout his tale, Wilde repeats words and phrases, which infuses the story with a singsong quality. When the creatures want to know why the Student is crying, the little Green Lizard asks, “Why?” The Butterfly and the Daisy ask, “Why, indeed?” Why is repeated three times, and indeed is repeated twice. The Nightingale’s reply results in further repetition. The Nightingale responds, “He is weeping for a red rose.” The three creatures then cry out, “For a red rose!”

Aside from poetically and musically, one might contend that Wilde uses language philosophically. His capitalization of Love, Power, Life, and Death indicates that Wilde is thinking about these concepts in a profound way. Their uppercase status suggests that Wilde is digging deeper and going beyond their ordinary meaning as common nouns. The ending advances the claim that Wilde uses language philosophically since the conclusion arguably contains a weighty comment on love, sacrifice, and resignation.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on