The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde
In The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde we have theme of love, sacrifice, selflessness, pity, materialism and gratitude. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that the young boy is very much in love with the young girl. If anything his actions demonstrate that he is love-struck. His every thought is of the girl and being able to dance with her at the ball. So strong are the boy’s desires for the girl he is preoccupied with her as though his life is not worth living unless he manages to dance and spend time with the girl. The Nightingale’s actions throughout the story are also important as she flies from one rose tree to another trying to find a red rose before sacrificing her life at the one tree that can give her a red rose. Even though the Nightingale knows that the thorn pressing against her breast may kill her she still perseveres. Thinking only of the boy’s happiness and overcoming the pain of the thorn piercing her breast. If anything the Nightingale is acting selflessly. Her number one priority is the young boy’s happiness. The Nightingale can also see how very much in love the boy is with the girl and this acts as a trigger for the Nightingale to find a red rose. Even if it is to cost the Nightingale her life.
It is also interesting that none of the other animals in the garden help or warn the Nightingale. It is possible by doing so Wilde is suggesting that love is not understood by all. It is clear to the reader that the Nightingale knows what love is however the same cannot be said for the other animals in the garden. Why this might be is difficult to say for certain. It is possible that the other animals may have experienced love at one stage in their lives but things did not work out for them. It is also possible that the other animals no longer see the joy that can come from love and rather than viewing it as something that can bring good to people they may have a certain amount of animosity towards love. Regardless of this the Nightingale shows great determination in her efforts to find a red rose. Even though as readers we are aware that the Nightingale is sacrificing her life for the boy and his pursuit of love.
A rose is also a thing of natural beauty unlike the jewels that Chamberlain has sent to the girl. The rose has a story behind it that is more compelling than any story that might come from the jewels. The young girl appears to be swayed by materialism and it is on this decision alone she decides to go to the dance with Chamberlain. Despite having previously promised to go to the dance with the young boy. It is possible that Wilde is pitting the rose against the jewels and suggesting that the young are swayed by material things. Things that are given to impress a person but which have no roots in love. Unlike the rose. The introduction of the jewels also serves to highlight the fickle nature of love. It is clear that girl is swayed by shinning jewels rather than the normality or simplicity of a rose.
However there is nothing normal about the Nightingale’s rose. She has taken pity on the boy and sacrificed her life for him. Though at the end of the story her death may have been in vain due to the boy discarding the rose in the gutter. Something he may not have done if he knew the real beauty of the rose. If he was aware of the sacrifices others have made for him he may have been more careful. The rose acted as a path to any girl that the boy would have liked to bring to the dance however he cannot see this. He has fixated on the one girl who does not deserve his affections. It is also noticeable that the boy gives up on love after being defeated by Chamberlain. This is not something that the Nightingale has done. She allowed the thorn push further and further into her breast till the thorn on the rose killed her. Throughout the story there is a sense that it is only the Nightingale who has understood the true meaning of love. For the boy he was no more than lovelorn and preoccupied with the one girl and when rejected decides that love is not something that a person should spend their time on. In reality the only one who has understood love in the story is the Nightingale and she may very well have made a sacrifice for a boy who is unready to understand the complexities of love. Devoting his entire energies into the one girl who doesn’t appreciate him and then giving up on love completely. It may very well be that the boy is not grateful for the sacrifices made by the Nightingale.