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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. The poet, as it is depicted, pierces through numerous layers of the social fabric and provides a narrative that combines various literary devices that represent the theme of altruism and sacrificial love (Lonanda). First, the story starts by bringing out the subject of romance and sacrifice when it presents the character of a young man who is in conflict for not having a red rose to give to his fiancée. In this case, 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). 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 of the boy does not get resolved because when he finally comes with the red rose, they still do share a romantic moment with the lady.
On the other hand, the language used by Wilde in the narrative plays a huge role in enhancing the theme of altruism and sacrifice (Lonanda). He is particularly expressive when he uses figurative language, but still remains fairly straightforward. He connects to natural elements and relates to feelings in a way that makes the general understanding of the story easy. The author also manages to use of other literary devices such as the metaphor particularly when the blood of the bird is spilled over the white rose to symbolically color the red rose. To further advance the theme of altruism and sacrificial love, the author uses paradox as a figure of speech to show how the bird gets betrayed by the young man whom he sacrificed his life for. His use of dialogue such as employing quotations when individuals speak also helps to make the story complex and dynamic.
Interestingly, the author further employs personification in the portrayal of characters especially when the nightingale is given human qualities even though it is a bird. He uses the literary style of characterizing 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. The Daisy, the butterfly, and the lizard are 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). These characters do not understand the meaning of romance and why the boy has to sacrifice a lot in searching for a red rose (Wilde 3).
The holm oak tree is portrayed as a character that plays the role of the birds’ friend, particularly feeling sorry for the bird because she has to sacrifice herself to create a rose. On the other hand, the student is presented as a person who is attractive (Wilde 2). But, this is just his physical appearance; the student has also been indirectly characterized based on his behavior. At this point, the author brings out the theme of selfishness. For instance, the young man is presented as shallow because while he sought to win a girl with a red rose, once he is rejected he carelessly tosses the flower. The student has a swollen ego because he does not admit rejection and he is unappreciative because he does not even care that the flower was a rare thing. Besides the student’s characterization, he is a significant figure in the piece because it is his love lamentations that trigger the Nightingale to assist him and also drive the story.
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. 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. For instance, the first part of the narrative is set in the garden where the young man is in search of a red rose.
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, et al. ""Transitivity Analysis: Representation of Love in Wilde’s The Nightingale And The Rose."" European Journal of Research in Social Sciences 2.4 (2014).
Wilde, Oscar, et al. The nightingale and the rose. Kaye & Ward, 1981.
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