The Nightingale and the Rose

by Oscar Wilde

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The Nightingale and the Rose Themes

The three main themes in The Nightingale and the Rose are logic versus art, human materialism, and love and sacrifice.

  • Logic versus art: The story explores the tension between logic and art through the characters of the student and the nightingale.
  • Human materialism: The story emphasizes the idea that humans value material possessions over sincere emotions.
  • Love and sacrifice: True love requires sacrifice, as illustrated by the nightingale’s selfless act for the student.

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Logic versus Art

A prominent theme in “The Nightingale and the Rose” is the tension between logic and art. The Nightingale represents art, while the student represents logic. The two are in conversation with each other from the very beginning of the story. The nightingale has been singing her evening love songs for a long time yet has never had any firsthand experience with true love. The student claims to know “all the secrets of philosophy” and to have read “all that the wise men have written,” but the mysteries of love elude him. At first, he seems to be merely an intelligent young scholar who has been put in a painful emotional position. As the story progresses, however, it appears as though the student is blinded by the logic with which he so identifies. Logic prevents him from understanding the nightingale’s true motives and perspective and makes him believe he is in love when he is instead merely infatuated. The nightingale, on the other hand, plays the role of the artist. She feels and expresses strong emotions even though she has never experienced true love. She sees the world in a deeper, more sensitive way than the other creatures around her, and she communicates her passionate feelings through her songs.

Both the nightingale and the student appear to be missing something. As the artist, the nightingale is so dazzled by the idea of love that she willingly sacrifices herself for something she will never have. She dreams of a love that she has never experienced and hopes for this so profoundly that she overlooks the student’s true character. Ultimately, seems to think himself above art, love, and emotion, instead favoring a view of the world that has been shaped through study alone. He fails to see what the world has to offer beyond the scope of logic, while the nightingale has surrendered to her art and sentimentality.

Human Materialism

The story touches on the idea of materialism in several instances. Materialism is particularly visible in the student and the professor’s daughter. The goal of the student is to obtain a red rose for his love so that she will dance with him. This, he believes, will bring him happiness and true love. Other creatures in the garden find the student’s predicament “ridiculous,” emphasizing that it seems objectively silly to be upset about a flower. Though this rose is symbolic of the student’s key to his beloved’s heart, it is still a material object he desires. Upon receiving the rose from the student, the professor’s daughter tells him the rose does not go with her dress. She is therefore painted as someone who cares more about appearances and aesthetics than sincerity. Even more, she prefers a different suitor who has bought her real jewels. These jewels are of greater value to her because they are costlier than the student’s flower. She scoffs at the student for not having silver buckles on his shoes like the chamberlain’s nephew, the same suitor who gave her the jewels, and for being “only a Student.” Although the student objects to her lack of gratitude, he accepts that love is a game played with money and rank. He understands that his failure as a lover is a result of his lack of wealth and fine gifts for his love. The nightingale, on the contrary, believes that love is “more precious than emeralds, and dearer than fine opals.” Clearly, her sentiments are not shared by the human characters of the story.

Love and Sacrifice

The Nightingale ultimately sacrifices herself for the red rose, which represents the student’s chance at love. She is fascinated by love and the idea of the student’s budding romance with the professor’s daughter. She seeks to help him and, in doing so, loses her own life. The Nightingale is willing to die for a love that is not hers and that she does not fully understand. Here, love is represented as a cause worthy of fighting for. It is difficult to attain and yet worth the struggle. True love, however, is not something that can be won by roses or jewels. Instead, building and maintaining love requires sacrifice, just as the nightingale sacrifices herself to form a symbol of love for the student. Although the nightingale’s impassioned endeavor is in vain and perhaps a bit short-sighted, it is her character that embodies the true spirit of love. By establishing what love is not, Wilde makes it clear that true love requires hard work, vulnerability, and sincerity.

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