The Nightingale and the Rose

by Oscar Wilde

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Why was the young student sad in "The Nightingale and the Rose"?

Quick answer:

At the beginning of "The Nightingale and the Rose," the Student is sad because the girl he loves will not dance with him unless he gives her a red rose, and there are no red roses in his garden. At the end of the story, he is at least equally unhappy because the girl has rejected him even though he gave her a rose.

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Initially, it appears that the Student is sad because he cannot find a red rose to present to the girl he loves. She said she would dance with him if he gave her a red rose, but there are none in his garden.

However, even though the Nightingale sacrifices her life to provide the Student with a red rose, he is not happy for very long. He gives the rose to the girl, but she does not want it. She complains that it will not go with her dress, and, in any case, a rival of the Student's has sent her some jewels. She says that the jewels are more expensive and therefore more desirable than flowers.

At the end of the story, the Student decides that love is a foolish thing. He angrily vows to devote himself to his studies. He is just as unhappy at the end of the story as he was at the beginning, before the Nightingale sacrificed her life for him. Indeed, he may be unhappier than he was before, for now he is without hope. As is often the case in Oscar Wilde's fairy tales, the charm of the writing is at odds with a rather bleak vision of the world. This dissonance is one of the reasons why Wilde asserted that these stories were not written primarily for children.

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Why was the Nightingale so struck by the student's plight in "The Nightingale and the Rose"?

Th student is suffering from unrequited love for a young woman who says she will dance with him if he brings her red roses. The Nightingale is struck by the student's plight because, although she sings songs of love, she has never actually seen true love. She believes that in the student she is finally witnessing what true love is like:

"Here at last is a true lover," said the Nightingale. "Night after night have I sung of him, though I knew him not."

She wants to help him find his red rose; she fervently believes that true love is the most valuable force in the world. It is more important, she says, than the philosophy the student is studying. The Nightingale says to herself:

Surely Love is a wonderful thing. It is more precious than emeralds, and dearer than fine opals.

Also, she herself has never experienced true love, despite singing about it all the time and therefore is thrilled to have found it in someone else. She feels deeply that love, above all emotions, is worth dying for.

The irony of the story is that the love the Nightingale gives her life for is eventually scorned—but we, as readers, still value her for her sincerity and goodness.

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