The Nightingale and the Rose

by Oscar Wilde

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How does "The Nightingale and the Rose" highlight human selfishness?

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"The Nightingale and the Rose" highlights human selfishness through its central characters. The student, focused solely on his needs, fails to appreciate the nightingale's song and the sacrifice she makes for his cause. Similarly, the girl he loves dismisses the rose he brings her, prioritizing material wealth over his love. Their self-centered actions demonstrate a lack of understanding of true love, which only the nightingale embodies.

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This seemingly simple story, when examined closely, develops several meaningful themes in regard to human nature, one of them being that of blind selfishness. The student is selfish in that he is totally focused upon himself--his own feelings, his own needs, and his arrogant security in his own education and intellect. As the result of his selfishness, he is both blind and ignorant. When the story begins, he weeps and pities himself, for he lacks a red rose that would bring the girl he loves into his arms. He lingers upon all that is being denied him, suffering with every detail summoned up in his tortured imagination. He wallows in his pain and rails at the injustice of it all. He, after all, deserves better.

Not even the beautiful song of the nightingale can break his obsession with himself. Hearing the lovely music as she sings for him, he takes out his notebook and arrogantly critiques her heartfelt performance.  He is, after all, a well educated student who knows music. In focusing on his own intellect and revelling in it, he is blind to the beauty of the gift she gives him with her song, and he is ignorant of her devotion. The student is selfish and ignorant.

The same obsession with self is found in the girl the student loves. Carrying the red rose created by the blood of the nightingle, he goes to her and is turned away. She refuses him, scoffs at the gift of the rose, and scorns him in a haughty manner. The rose is the wrong color for her dress, she tells him, and it is only a rose. She has been offered jewels. Noting her selfishness, he calls her ungrateful--surely an ironic moment in the story. In response, she rejects him as being "only a student," and one who lacks silver buckles for his shoes. In her selfish concern for appearances and wealth, she turns away someone who loved her.

Many other themes are developed in the story, but through these two characters, the nature of love is examined. Both of them are too selfish to love. As soon as he is rejected, the student throws the rose in the gutter and closes his heart. Only the nightingale understood the meaning of love and loved truly.

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