The Nightingale and the Rose

by Oscar Wilde

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What is the moral of Oscar Wilde's "The Nightingale and the Rose"?

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The moral of Oscar Wilde's "The Nightingale and the Rose" is that true love involves sacrifice and selflessness, as demonstrated by the nightingale who gives up her life for the student to obtain a red rose. However, Wilde also contrasts this with the fleeting and materialistic love between the student and the girl, emphasizing that love can make one vulnerable and what some value, others may scorn.

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Arguably, the moral of "The Nightingale and the Rose" is that true love involves sacrifice and selflessness. Wilde makes this point through his characterization of the nightingale, the bird who gives her own life so the student can obtain a red rose. This selfless act is made all the more poignant by the attitude of the student, who has no idea of the nightingale's sacrifice.

The Student looked up from the grass, and listened, but he could not understand what the Nightingale was saying to him, for he only knew the things that are written down in books.

To reinforce his moral, Wilde contrasts true love with the love between the student and young girl. This form of love is based on materialism (the possession of a red rose) and is not long-lasting. As soon as the girl is offered jewels, for example, her attentions quickly turn to a new suitor and she loses all interest in the student. This prompts the student to turn his back on love and concern himself only with his studies.

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Perhaps one of the following:

  • "Don't waste your life being sacrificial for people who don't deserve it."
  • Love makes you vulnerable, so be careful who you give your love to.
  • What some value others scorn.
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What are the moral lessons in "The Nightingale and the Rose" by Oscar Wilde?"

A sad story about undying and altruistic love, "The Nightingale and the Rose" is essentially a parable that reads like a romantic story, and is presented as a fairy tale. In typical Wilde style, the narrative is injected with irony, sarcasm, paradox, and surprise. These are all conduits that deliver the same message: There is no fairness in love or life. 

The Nightingale represents the dreamers. Those who decide to love for love's sake and are willing to give up everything to live up to that standard. The bachelor student is also a dreamer, but a shallow and petulant one who does not really suffer the way that he says he does: for the love of a young woman who refuses him unless he gives her a red rose. 

The Nightingale, as a martyr for her cause of love, goes from rose tree to rose tree tree in search of that red rose for the allegedly love-striken man. The red rose would come at a very high price: the life of the bird. For this reason, the Nightingale feels that to sacrifice for a principle that she truly abides by makes her belief even stronger. 

If you want a red rose,' said the Tree, 'you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart's-blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and the thorn must pierce your heart, and your life-blood must flow into my veins, and become mine.'

This is an ultimate sacrifice, but the Nightingale accepts and thus she dies. 

Unfortunately, the bachelor could not even understand the message that the Nightingale sends right before dying. In a very heartfelt and dramatic moment, the Nightingale asks the student to do something in exchange for her sacrifice:

All that I ask of you in return is that you will be a true lover, for Love is wiser than Philosophy, though she is wise, and mightier than Power, though he is mighty. Flame-coloured are his wings, and coloured like flame is his body. His lips are sweet as honey, and his breath is like frankincense.

Nothing happened. The sacrifice brings no joy, makes no difference, and is-literally- a waste of time. The young woman refused the red rose because it did not go with his dress. The student throws the red rose to a gutter and a cartwheel drives over it. The sacrifice was nothing. The philosophy was nothing. The martyrdom amounted to nothing. There is no fairness in life, nor in love. 

The morals are, then:

1. Believing in anything is a choice that comes with the consequences of believing. If you believe in a cause, and are willing to commit to it terminally, then you will have to abide by that. 

2. Not two people understand philosophical concepts, nor matters of the heart, in the same way. One cannot expect that the idea of love is the same in any two minds. The Nightingale took a tremendous risk by assuming that the student embraces the same principles as the bird. 

3. Everyone gives personal meaning to concepts. The young woman calls the student "rude" for even daring to come near her. He is beneath her station and, as such, he has no business going to meet her. Her definition of rude is as audacious as his definition of "love". No two people name the same thing the same way. 

4. Being that there is no fairness in love or life, the takeaway is risk. Either take the risk, or not. There are no winners when there is no risk--there are no losers either. It is entirely the call of each individual. 

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What are the moral lessons in "The Nightingale and the Rose" by Oscar Wilde?"

You can draw several lessons from the story. You could sum up the more evident ones in these themes:

Looks can be deceiving. People are not always what they seem to be.

Infatuation is a very elusive and ephemeral thing without substance. Love, however, is always true and stands the test of time.

Before making sacrifices, count the price. Don't throw away your life for people or things that aren't worth it.

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What is the theme of "The Nightingale and the Rose" by Oscar Wilde?

The theme of Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Nightingale and the Rose” could be said to be both the nobility in and futility of sacrifice.  Wilde was an acerbic observer of Victorian social customs, and frequently satirized them. “The Nightingale and the Rose,” however, was part of a compilation of children’s stories by Wilde published in 1888. “The Nightingale and the Rose” has a somber tone. A nightingale sitting in a garden observes an emotionally distraught college student lament the absence of a red rose among the myriad plants before him. The red rose, he wails, is needed in order to win over the hand of his true love. The other animals and plants, however, are considerably more cynical, and do not share the nightingale’s sympathy for the morose student, as evident in the following passage:

“Why, indeed?” whispered a Daisy to his neighbor, in a soft, low voice.

“He is weeping for a red rose,” said the Nightingale.

“For a red rose!” they cried; “how very ridiculous!” and the little Lizard, who was something of a cynic, laughed outright.

But the Nightingale understood the secret of the Student’s sorrow, and she sat silent in the oak-tree, and thought about the mystery of Love.

The nightingale, as readers learn, will sacrifice its life so that the student may experience love with his chosen partner. The bird has flown among the trees and plants, seeking the elusive red rose only to discover, as explained by a red rose tree that cannot grow roses this year, that the only solution is to stain a different color rose red with its (the nightingale’s) blood. And, the nightingale must perform this suicidal act while singing to the tree, to all of which the bird cries, “Death is a great price to pay for a red rose.” The nightingale, however, overcomes any reservations regarding the sanctity of life and agrees to shed its blood for the student:

 “Be happy,” cried the Nightingale, “be happy; you shall have your red rose. I will build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with my own heart’s-blood. All that I ask of you in return is that you will be a true lover, for Love is wiser than Philosophy, though she is wise, and mightier than Power, though he is mighty.”

This most noble of sacrifices is all for naught. The woman spurns the student despite his presentation of the red rose, explaining that the flower does not match her dress and that the Chamberlain’s nephew has presented her with jewels. She punctuates her rudeness by noting, “everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers.” The bird has killed itself for nothing, and the student has humiliated himself, declaring his determination to avoid emotional entanglements in the future. He walks away declaring that love is “silly” and that it is “not half as useful as Logic . . . In fact, it is quite unpractical . . .”

With the story’s apparent moral that human emotions—or love, anyway—are impractical, and with the nightingale having killed itself on his behalf, one can conclude that the story’s theme is the futility of love and sacrifice. Only the student and the nightingale believed in true love: the student ended up alone and the nightingale dead.

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What is the theme of "The Nightingale and the Rose" by Oscar Wilde?

The main theme of Oscar Wilde's short story "The Nightingale and the Rose" explores the effects of self-sacrifice in the name of what one truly believes in.

In this story, the nightingale is a bird who hears an Oxford student cry for the want of a lady, who is apparently his "true love". The woman in question had requested specifically a red rose from the love-stricken man as a token of true devotion. Only with the flower will the lady respond to the man's request for love.

The nightingale, who is a believer in true and eternal love finds that there are no red roses in the garden. However, a true believer at last, he pinches his own heart against the thorn of a white rose and turns it red with its own blood. This, the nightingale does to reinstate his faith in love and his true believe that love shall always prevail.

We find out in the end that all is worthless. The lady rejects the rose and the Oxford lad realizes that it was all caprice on his part. The bird, however, is still dead. However, the story shows us that no sacrifice is too small when one does it with a true mission in mind. However, the story is (as many works in Wilde's tradition) open-ended: Was it worth it, after all? Who actually wins in an ultimate demonstration of true faith? Does the nightingale die in vain? These are the ultimate questions that are subtlety laid to the reader, and it is the reader who will have the final say after all.

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What is the message in "The Nightingale and the Rose" by Oscar Wilde?

"The Nightingale and the Rose" shows us that sometimes it's necessary to make sacrifices for love. But at the same time, it also shows us that such sacrifices are often in vain. Love is a very powerful emotion, yet one that must be controlled, lest it lead to misery and heartbreak. That's precisely what happens to the student in the story. He's bought in to a highly romanticized notion of love, replete with hearts, flowers, and plaintive sighs. Unfortunately for him, the object of his love—the singularly unworthy object of his love—has a much more cynical view of things. For her, material goods are a more reliable token of esteem than the beauties of nature.

Yet in a sense, the student's been beaten at his own game. The red rose he gives to the professor's daughter isn't really red at all—at least not naturally. It has been artificially stained with the sacrificial blood of the nightingale. The nightingale gave his life in vain just as the student has given his love in vain. But Wilde cautions against a retreat into outright cynicism. We must still believe in love, yes romantic love too, even to the extent of making sacrifices on its behalf. But it must be a real love, a love worth fighting for, and if necessary, dying for. To discern what is true, we must not become, like the nightingale and the student, mere slaves to convention. Instead, we must look within, deep into our hearts. It is there, and only there, that we will behold the meaning of true love.

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What is the message in "The Nightingale and the Rose" by Oscar Wilde?

In "The Nightingale and the Rose," Wilde argues love is not always a pleasant and idyllic experience. We see this through the experiences of the student who first undergoes great distress when he realizes his garden does not contain a red rose. Even when he finally obtains one, he is rejected by the Professor's daughter, the girl he loves, because she found someone richer and in possession of fine jewels.

In fact, for Wilde, true love often involves sacrifice and loss. This is illustrated through the character of the nightingale, who sacrifices her life in the pursuit of a red rose for the student. In a tragic twist, however, the student does not realize her sacrifice produced the red rose because he cannot understand her song. Moreover, when the young girl rejects him, he turns his back on the idea of love, which further sullies the nightingale's sacrifice.

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