The Nightingale and the Rose

by Oscar Wilde

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In "The Nightingale and the Rose", is the nightingale the true lover, not the student or girl?

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One might argue that the nightingale is the true lover because he's sacrificed his life for love. A similar theme emerges in another of Wilde's short stories, "The Happy Prince," where the little swallow also sacrifices his own life for love. The general message seems to be that true love must have a sacrificial element to it. And sacrificing one's life is the ultimate expression of true love, as it shows that both life and love are ultimately transcendent.

But where is the sacrifice from either the student or his beloved? It's nowhere to be found. And that's because there's nothing remotely transcendent about their love. For the student, his attachment to the professor's daughter is nothing more than a youthful infatuation. He's still too young and too naive to know what love's all about. For him, love is just hearts and flowers, exaggerated expressions of heartfelt devotion and suppressed sighs. As his amorous feelings operate on such a superficial level, he's easily able to foreswear all talk of love and go back to reading his metaphysics books after the professor's daughter unceremoniously dumps him.

As for the girl, she gives the impression that the only time she ever experiences love of any description is in front of a mirror. She's such a preening narcissist that she's incapable of bestowing love upon another human being. Her shallowness and superficiality ensure that the very notion of transcendence that true love entails is utterly meaningless to her. All she truly cares about is the here and now: lavish parties, gifts, and the undying attention of a dashing young prince.

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In "The Nightingale and the Rose," the nightingale represents true love because she selflessly sacrifices her own life to provide a rose for the student, the young man she loves. In contrast, when the young girl rejects his rose, the student completely abandons the idea of love. In fact, he calls love a "silly thing" and decides that he should dedicate himself to more important matters, like philosophy and metaphysics. This contrasts strongly with the nightingale, who believes that love is so important that it is worth sacrificing her life.

Finally, the young girl is not a true lover because she has a very shallow perception of love. For her, love is about material objects, like a red rose, which she demands from the student, and fine jewels, which pique her interest in the Chamberlain's nephew. 

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