The Nightingale and the Rose

by Oscar Wilde

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In "The Nightingale and the Rose," how does the student realize the reality of love?

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In "The Nightingale and the Rose," the student realizes the reality of love when his beloved rejects the red rose because it does not match her dress and prefers jewels from another suitor. This leads him to conclude that love is "a silly thing" and not as valuable as logic. Despite the Nightingale's sacrifice, the student fails to grasp the deeper meaning of love.

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The Student in the story never does come to understand the reality of love. He believes his beloved will dance with him if he brings her a beautiful red rose. He searches for one, and then one morning, considers it a piece of good "luck" that he finds one growing outside of his window. It is so beautiful that he assumes it must have a long Latin name.

His beloved, however, is vain and shallow, and she rejects the rose because it does not match her dress, and rejects the would-be lover as not good enough for her. The lesson the Student, who is about as shallow as the girl, learns is as follows:

“What a silly thing Love is,” said the Student as he walked away. “It is not half as useful as Logic ..."

He goes back to his books.

The readers, however, learn a different lesson. We have seen how deeply the Nightingale believes in love, so much so that it is willing to sacrifice its life so that its blood can turn a rose red for the Student to give to his lover. We hear the Nightingale say:

Surely Love is a wonderful thing. It is more precious than emeralds, and dearer than fine opals. Pearls and pomegranates cannot buy it, nor is it set forth in the market-place.

The Nightingale tries to tell the student that love is more important than philosophy but he cannot understand the words.

Wilde's story is an example of dramatic irony, which is when the audience knows what characters in a tale do not. We understand and appreciate the sacrifice the Nightingale made, and come to understand the importance of love, but this lesson is lost on the Student.

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Tragically, the student does not realise that the Nightingale sacrificed her life so that he could have a red rose. In fact, he has no idea about this sacrifice because he could not understand the words of her song. Instead, it is through the red rose (the symbol of her sacrifice) that the student learns an important lesson about the reality of love. Specifically, he learns that love can be shallow and empty because the girl quickly changes her mind about the red rose. At the beginning, for example, she tells the student that she will dance with him if he brings her a red rose. By the end of the story, however, she no longer wants one, as she explains:

"I am afraid it will not go with my dress," she answered, "and, besides, the Chamberlain's nephew has sent me some real jewels."

In the eyes of the student, the girl now appears "ungrateful" and he realises that love is a "silly thing." He could never have reached this conclusion without the Nightingale's support because it was she who brought him the rose. 

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