The Nightingale and the Rose Themes | Oscar Wilde

The Nightingale and the Rose Themes


Oscar Wilde writes “The Nightingale and the Rose” to portray the themes of art, love, sacrifice as well as the superiority of materialism to love and relationships in the life of a human being. The young student, who is in love with a girl, does the impossible (though it is not he who does this but the nightingale) to get the attention of the girl but she at the end ditches him while saying that the impossible (rose) is inferior to pearls and jewels. It is very obvious from the writings of Oscar Wilde that either he was interested in writing comic fictions or stories with the philosophy of love; however, he was against romanticism as evident from this short story. 

It is strongly recommended to read the summary and analysis of the “The Nightingale and the Rose” first.

Like other stories of Oscar Wilde, this story has also a moral meaning; it seems that the writer prefers love and it is not the nightingale that talks about it but the writer himself in her guise. In the whole story, just before the conclusion, the writer glorifies the power of love but soon he clears everything to his readers and declares that philosophy is more important than love in life. 

It is, therefore, the critics add him in the list of the most anti-romantic writers but it is not true at all. He shows his readers both sides. On one hand, the boy represents love as the most important wish of his life but on the other hand the girl is representative of people who prefer materialism and a connection between the two is portrayed through the character of nightingale.

Themes of “The Nightingale and the Rose”

“The Nightingale and the Rose” contains a lot of wonderful, innovative and philosophical themes but the most important ones that are obvious from reading its summary and bare analysis of the complete short story are:

  • Importance of Love
  • Unending Emotions
  • Knowns Vs. Unknowns
  • Sacrifice
  • Materialism
  • Power of Philosophy

Importance of Love

From the very beginning of the story the readers meet a young student who cries for his love. He wishes to dance with the girl he wants at a ball party that the prince is going to arrange tomorrow night. She demands a red rose in the autumn season if the boy wants to be her dance partner but there is no chance of getting the rose. Thus, he has no other option but to cry. On the nearby oak tree a nightingale hears everything. Most of the action that we observe in this short story is dependent on the character of nightingale.

Nightingale is the one who knows importance of love the most, hence, she does everything to grow a red rose for the boy. It is also worth mentioning here that the boy does nothing to get the rose or perhaps the writer shows that he can do nothing because having a red rose in autumn is a miracle; the boy has already accepted his defeat when the story starts. Although he enthusiastically wants the girl yet the writer has not associated any action with him. It is the nightingale that does everything for him and gives love and sacrifice as two major themes of “The Nightingale and the Rose”.

Irony in Theme of Love

Nightingale tells us the vitality of the most zestful human emotion. She talks about love. She knows that it is an emotion that is much more difficult to suppress; emotions are there in everyone; it is the suppression of emotions that makes the difference between people. In order to define love, the nightingale says:

“Surely Love is a wonderful thing. It is more precious than emeralds, and dearer than fine opals. Pearls and pomegranates cannot buy it, nor is it set forth in the market-place. it may not be purchased of the merchants, ‘or can it be weighed out in the balance for gold.’”

Oscar Wilde

It is ironic that at the end of the short story the love is purchased and the aforementioned statement of nightingale seems opposite to reality; however, it is undoubtedly true that the writer Oscar Wild portrays love as one of the most important themes of “The Nightingale and The Rose”.

Unending Emotions

Nightingale talks about love and also tells the readers that it is the human emotion that has not been changed since the creation of mankind. She forces the readers to think twice on the same when she says that the song of love that she sings has been sung for centuries. It is an everlasting emotion. It was the most powerful thing; those who know the history of Troy can realise that power is not the only reason due to which the people came face to face on the battleground; love was also the thing that forced people to fight.

The writer also expresses this fact in his short story when he writes:

“night after night have I told his story to the stars, and now I see him.”

Oscar Wilde

Nightingale has been singing songs of love for many years and telling the people about this unending human emotion, hence, unending emotion and desire of love become another two  important themes of “The Nightingale and the Rose”.

Knowns Vs. Unknowns

Oscar Wilde divides characters into two categories; one who realises love as a dominant emotion whereas the others are those who do not know anything about it. When the nightingale tells the lizard that the boy is crying for a red rose, she replies:

‘For a red rose!’ they cried; ‘how very ridiculous!’ and the little Lizard, who was something of a cynic, laughed outright.

Oscar Wilde

Nightingale understands the pain of the young student but lizard cannot. Similarly, the boy knows the significance of love in life but the girl does not. She does not accept the rose, instead she prefers gold, jewels and pearls. Thus, the writer puts both knowns and unknowns in juxtaposition in order to make a comparison between the two for better understanding. As a result, these become important themes of “The Nightingale and the Rose”.


Where there is love there must be sacrifices. Apparently, the boy does not sacrifice anything but deep down we realise that he suppresses his emotion of love forever when the girl rejects the rose as well as his proposal of dancing. Likewise, the nightingale sacrifices her life for a red rose. She eagerly wants it not for herself but for the boy. 

She cries and asks if there is a way that she can get a red rose? In return, the plant tells her that she can get it at the price of her life. Without thinking further, she sacrifices her life for the red rose. It is also the main idea of this short story that some people sacrifice to make their lives better but there are those who do so for the sake of others. Nightingale does not get anything in return but she gives her blood to give the boy a red rose. Undeniably, sacrifice and helping others are two most important themes that Oscar Wilde portrays in “The Nightingale and the Rose”.

Sacrifice Goes Waste

Some critics are of the view that the boy does not get anything in return, hence, sacrifice in this story is of no cause. Apparently, it seems so but the sacrifice of nightingale should be interpreted in moral terms. Her (nightingale’s) philosophy was to help others. She does so at every cost without thinking whether they perceive it is helpful or not. On the surface sacrifice seems like a waste but in reality it is not.


When he finds the red rose, he goes to the girl and tells her that he has done the impossible. On seeing the red rose, the girl says: 

“the Chamberlain’s nephew has sent me some real jewels, and everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers.”

Oscar Wilde

She further argues:

“I don’t believe you have even got silver buckles to your shoes as the Chamberlain’s nephew has”

Oscar Wilde

These two dialogues of the girls separates her from the people who want only love but not the luxuries of life. The boy feels at the end that love is nothing but a waste of intellectuality and time. Materialism prevails love at the end of the story and strengthens the dogma that it is much easier to purchase love nowadays.

Power of Philosophy

Philosophy makes a person intellectual by which he can get respect, earn money and can become a powerful person. Oscar Wilde portrays two separate themes in “The Nightingale and the Rose ” side by side; one is the importance of love whereas the second is the power of philosophy. At the start the boy utters:

“I have read all that the wise men have written, and all the secrets of philosophy are mine, yet for want of a red rose is my life made wretched”.

Oscar Wilde

Similarly, at another occasion, the writer compares philosophy with love. He writes:

“Love is wiser than Philosophy, though she is wise, and mightier than Power”. 

Oscar Wilde

In fact, the writer accepts that philosophy is wiser than love; those who are wiser are also stronger and powerful. 

The boy refuses sacrificing and wasting his energy in love and chooses philosophy at the end. The writer concludes:

“I [the boy] shall go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics.”

Oscar Wilde

In a nutshell, the writer emphasises love as a strong desire but at the same time he paints the strength of intellectuality as well as philosophy as two prominent themes of “The Nightingale and the Rose”.