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Oscar Wilde's "The Nightingale and the Rose" is an allegory of altruism and selfishness. It is a story with literary elements of a fairy tale that finely touches on subjects of universal human wishes, indifference, and feelings with a cynical tone that can go unnoticed at first. Throughout the novel, the author cuts through multiple layers of social structure to produce a plot that uses various literary instruments to illustrate the theme of altruism and sacrificial love.
First, the author explores the themes of romance and sacrifice in the character of a young man who is conflicted that he does not have a red rose to present to his fiancée. In this scenario, a lady has demanded a red rose so that she can dance with the boy. It is meant to signify a romantic gesture, and the boy sets out to find the red rose as an indication of true love. Sadly, there are only white roses in the garden, and this leaves the student lamenting. Luckily, a nightingale who believes that the boy has found true love comes to his rescue (Mehmood et al. 79). The bird sacrifices herself by squeezing her heart against a spike on the white flower so as to make it red. While it is a surprising thing, the author manages to portray a symbolic paradigm which shows that love must be maddening, sacrificial, and deadly. Nonetheless, the conflict in the story does not get resolved because when the boy finally comes with the red rose, the girl rejects it and refuses to dance with the boy.
In the narrative, Wilde also uses several figures of speech to achieve semantic expressions. The language in the narrative is evocative and filled with figurative speech (Lonanda 29). Wilde connects to natural elements and relates to feelings in a way that makes the general understanding of the story easy. A fascinating feature which catches the eye in terms of language is the fact that Wilde capitalizes common nouns such as Nightingale, Professor, and Love in order to accentuate their typology. The author also uses paradox as a figure of speech to show how the bird gets betrayed by the young man whom he sacrificed his life for. When he encounters rejection, “the boy threw the rose into the street, where it fell into the gutter, and a cartwheel went over it…" (Wilde 6). The student further says“What a silly thing Love is,” said the Student as he walked away”(Wilde 6). Wilde’s use of dialogue such as employing quotations when individuals speak also helps to make the story complex and dynamic.
Wilde uses characterization such as giving the Nightingale human qualities even though it is a bird. For instance, when the bird talks, “Here at last is a true lover,” said the Nightingale…“Night after night have I sung of him, though I knew him not; night after night have I told his story to the stars, and now I see him” (Wilde 2). Wilde employs the characterization of other characters to help in bringing out the theme of romance, sacrifice, and selfishness. When he incorporates natural elements in the story, he endeavors to add to the features of the fairy tale especially by personifying them to act like humans. "Why is he weeping?" asked a little Green Lizard… "Why indeed?" said a Butterfly, who was fluttering about after a sunbeam" (Wilde 2). These animals take the position of human characters when they question why the boy is crying. Furthermore, the Daisy, the butterfly, and the lizard are also used to fill the role of realists and cynics in human society because they cannot comprehend why the student is crying over a rose, and implicitly over love (Mehmood et al. 81). These characters do not understand the meaning of romance and why the boy has to sacrifice a lot in searching for a red rose “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” (Wilde 3).
As the title of the narrative further suggests, the bird is the main character. Her role as a Nightingale is the target of the plot and her sacrifice is used to drive the narrative forward. Although most readers might say that the boy is the main character, his role is rather flat. It is the bird that offers his life for true love, thinking that she can make a difference in the boys' life (Mehmood et al. 81). Therefore, while the Nightingales sacrifice is in vain, she helps to connect the title to the theme of the story. The student is presented as shallow and selfish because once he is rejected he carelessly tosses the flower at the expense of the bird.
Another important aspect which the author uses to advance the theme of altruism and sacrifice is the manner in which he presents the setting of the story. The author presents the story in a style of a folk tale, meaning that it does not occur in the real world, but instead the characters and the setting are generic (Lonanda 10). It implies that readers ought to lay an emphasis on the dynamics of the narrative rather than the background as a real place and characters as individuals.
Lonanda, Fitria. "The use of Figurative Language in Characterization of the Nightingale and the Rose Short Story by Oscar Wilde." Padang: Andalas University, 2013.
Mehmood, Asad, Amber, Roshan, Ameer, Sobia, & Faiz, Rabia. "Transitivity Analysis: Representation of Love in Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose." European Journal of Research in Social Sciences, vol. 2, no. 4, 2014, pp. 78-85.
Wilde, Oscar. The Nightingale and the Rose. Kaye & Ward, 1981.
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