Theme Analysis ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ by Oscar Wilde

‘Nineteenth-Century Short Stories’ is a collection of tales from the nineteen hundreds. This essay will concentrate on just one of these stories. It will include a thorough analysis of the story including my views and opinions towards the language, imagery and setting that the author uses. The story I have chosen to analyse is ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’, by Oscar Wilde. This is one of many children’s stories that he wrote, as he is well known to have ‘used the form of fairy tale to reflect on modern life and to debate ideas’. ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ is a very poignant story following the theme of love.

The theme is conveyed in this story through the actions of the Nightingale. It demonstrates how one life would sacrifice itself in order to make another happy. From the Nightingale’s point of view, this is a tragically ironic story. For she thinks that the Student must be a ‘true lover’ – she thinks that he would give anything for one night with the Professor’s daughter. ‘She said that she would dance with me if I brought her red roses… yet for want of a red rose is my life made wretched’, the Nightingale hears him cry; and on this evidence alone she bases her opinion: ‘Here at last is a true lover.’

When in fact the only feelings the Student has for the Professor’s daughter are those of material love. He is only interested in her beauty. He says to himself ‘She has form – that cannot be denied to her’ but then he says ‘She would not sacrifice herself for others’, which is exactly what the Nightingale is about to do for him. She is willing to sacrifice her life for love; for the Student to be able to spend one night with the girl he supposedly admires. An interesting point to note is when the Student mentions that the Professor’s daughter ‘has some beautiful notes in her voice.

What a pity it is that they do not mean anything, or do any practical good. ‘ Now Nightingales are renowned for having beautiful voices, but the Student does not appreciate the wonderful art of music. A few paragraphs before these lines the Nightingale sings to the Student telling him of how she intends to sacrifice her life for him; ‘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. ‘ Although he cannot understand them, these words are, in fact, deeply meaningful to the Student.

And as for music doing no ‘practical good’, well, what would you call the outcome of the red rose? The Nightingale died and the rose was born. Music made that red rose. The Student does not realise how wrong his judgements are. We find out that the only ‘true lover’ was in fact the Nightingale. She was the only one with sincere feelings, and she was prepared to sacrifice her life for those feelings, even though she knew she would not gain anything from it. The fact that she was doing it for love, and that she was making someone happy, was enough for her. She was really the only one who deserved love – the only one worthy of it.

The Nightingale was love. She went to the greatest extremes to find a red rose for the Student to give to the Professor’s daughter. She flew all around the garden trying to find a red rose. She flew to ‘the centre of the grass-plot’, and ’round the old sun-dial’, and finally ‘beneath the Students window’, where she eventually found a red rose tree. But the tree was damaged, and would not bear a red rose. the only way the Nightingale could obtain a red rose from this tree, would be to ‘build it out of music by moonlight’, and stain it with her ‘own heart’s-blood’; and that is what she did.

The story is set in a garden of fantasy – it is full of talking creatures and trees; not unlike the Garden of Eden in the Bible, which had a talking snake. Perhaps the author used a garden because in the Bible it is very symbolic, and its story has many lessons and meanings. Maybe that was what Oscar Wilde was trying to convey in his writing.

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