May 25, 2018
“The Nightingale and the Rose”: An Analysis of Theme
“‘Ungrateful!’ said the girl. ‘I tell you what, you are very rude; and, after all, who are you? Only a Student'”(Wilde 4). This is an important passage from Oscar Wilde’s fairy tale “The Nightingale and the Rose” because it deals with the theme of the story. The story is mainly about a nightingale sacrifices her life to create a red rose for helping a student dance with a professor’s daughter, but the girl rejects the student because she prefers jewels, so the red rose becomes useless, and eventually the student no longer believes in love. Wilde satirizes the Victorian era of the 19th century by writing this story. The Victorian era is a period of the rapid change in England. At that time, the society emphasizes reason, scientific methods, and philosophy. Also, the development of the Industrial Revolution transformed societal attitudes toward wealth and consumption, so the whole society was materialistic. Wilde’s “The Nightingale and the Rose” is a fable that satirizes the materialism of the Victorian era with its symbols and characters.
In the story, Wilde displays and satirizes the materialist view of things during the 19th century by using symbol. At first, the student weeps because he lacks a red rose, so he can not dance with the professor’s daughter. At this time, the red rose represents his love for the girl. Later, the nightingale brings the red rose to him by sacrificing her life. The nightingale further underscores the idea that the red rose is an expression of true love. In the end, however, the student is not able to appreciate the red rose’s symbolic significance. When the student brings the red rose to the girl, the girl frowns and says “‘I am afraid it will not go with my dress…and, besides, the Chamberlain’s nephew has sent me some real jewels, and everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers'” (Wilde 4). The behavior of the girl shows that she has never really seen the red rose as a symbol of love, but rather as a kind of currency to buy others’ feelings. Also, she do not understand the truth that the story behind the red rose “is more compelling than any story that might come from the jewels”(The sitting Bee Editors). Hence, by showing the materialist’s view on the red rose, Wilde pointedly ridicules the materialism of the Victorian era.
Through the character’s development, Wilde indirectly makes a good mockery of the materialism that prevails in the Victorian era. The main character, a student, is looking for a red rose to give to a girl that he likes, but he cannot find it. He keeps crying and says that “there is no red rose in my garden, so I shall sit lonely, and she will pass me by” (Wilde 1). At this time, the nightingale hears him and “has taken pity on the boy”, so she “sacrifices her life for him”(The sitting Bee Editors). Until now, the boy’s actions show that he is very infatuated with the girl, and “his every thought is of the girl and being able to dance with her at the ball” (The sitting Bee Editors). However, when he gives the girl the red rose which is made of blood by the nightingale, the girl refuses him because she prefers the jewels she recently receives from the chamberlain’s nephew. For this reason, the student feels very angry, and says “what a silly thing Love is…I shall go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics” (Wilde 4). Although the student’s words have revealed that he is in fact a person who does not know the true love, however, it is undeniable that if the materialistic girl does not reject him, he will at least pursue his “love”, and the nightingale will not be sacrificed in vain. Consequently, the dramatic change of the student indirectly reveals and satirizes the materialism of the Victorian era.
By shaping a typical figure, Wilde directly reflects the social problems of the 19th century. In the fairy tale, a girl that the boy is infatuated with embodies unfeeling materialism. Initially, she tells the student that she will dance with him only if he brings a red rose to her. This requirement shows that she has superficial and materialistic understanding of love because she measured love by matter, not by affection. Similarly, when she rejects the red rose for more valuable jewels, her behavior also demonstrates that “she is swayed by materialism” (The Sitting Bee Editors). Besides that, the girl’s surroundings further emphasize her shallow nature. When the student comes to her house with the red rose, she is “sitting in the doorway winding blue silk on a reel, and her little dog is lying at her” (Wilde 4). The silk she is spinning and the toy dog she owns are symbols of her shallowness and materialism, since they are both luxury commodities. By describing the girl’s deeds and her surroundings, her superficial and materialistic manner is thoroughly revealed. Therefore, “Wilde’s portrayal of the daughter of the professor effectively exposes the human weakness”, which is materialism (Iosrjournals Editors).
In conclusion, Oscar Wilde’s “The Nightingale and the Rose” is a fable which sharply ridicules the materialism of the Victorian era through its symbols and characters. In the story, the background is set up in the Victorian era of the 19th century. At that time, most people believe in materialism. In order to mock the Victorian social mores, Wilde shows the materialist’s view of the red rose, the great influence of this superficial materialistic view on the development of the student, and the character of a typical materialistic person, who is the professor’s daughter. Also, it is mainly because of her that the rose is threw “into the street, where it fell into the gutter, and a cart-wheel went over it” at the end of the story (Wilde 4).
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