Love is not as half as useful as logic. Do you agree? Discuss in relation to the story (2016).
The Nightingale and the Rose was written by Oscar Wilde in the late 1800’s. The story, adopting the genre of a fairytale, deals with theories on aesthetics, rationalism and the concept of idealistic love. The student in the story embodies rationalism and concludes that ‘love is not as half as useful as logic,’ after being rejected by the professor’s daughter. I do not agree with the statement. In my opinion, love and logic are both useful and should be guided by each other. In this essay I will explore the character of the student and the girl who are blinded by logic and materialism, and I will elaborate on the self-sacrificial love of the nightingale, whose love which saw no logic, ended up in the gutter.
The student is characterized by his obsession of knowledge. He is referred to as the ‘student’ to imply his pursuit of facts. In the first few paragraphs, the author makes it obvious that the student’s understanding of philosophy is not useful in overcoming the struggle he faces; obtaining a red rose in order to receive the girl’s affection. His logic is useless and ironically, is impractical, as it does not help him find a red rose. The student’s excessive attachment to intellectualism has caused him to become callous towards human emotions and he has lost touch with his feelings. By placing reason over everything, feelings and emotions are devalued and seen merely as an impediment to informed and sound judgment. Consequentially, the student has become alienated from his feelings, and fails to understand the ‘logic’ behind human interactions and relationships. His logic-based mind compares human relationships to theoretical formulas or something such as a transaction, which is the logic behind consumerist society. Therefore, he believes that offering her a rose will guarantee her love or even obsession for him.
‘Oh for want of a red rose is my life wretched’
He fails to understand beyond the transaction. This quotation characterizes him as shallow and naïve. He is unaware of the fickleness, the flaws and the selfishness of individuals. When he is bluntly refused by the girl, his philosophy and knowledge fails to reveal to him that it is not love which betrayed him, but it was the girl who never really loved him. He also fails to realize how he was not in love with the girl, but was selfishly seeking his own satisfaction of being the object of her love. His intellectualism blinds him to the fact that neither of them had any love between them. His logic was useless in dealing with human relationships.
He throws the flower away because for him it has no value. It can be thrown away without any meaning. There was no sacrifice behind his desire for the girl. He desired her. Not loved her. The nightingale loved the boy and sacrificed herself for his happiness. He is completely blind to the fact that the flower which was a symbol of love and hope for him was birthed by the sacrificial death of the nightingale. His narcissism does not allow him to see beyond his interests. Therefore, the symbol of hope born out of love perfected by death, ends in the gutter without any value because neither the student nor the girl are able to understand or embrace it.
The girl embodies materialism. She exalts logic over human relationships, which is why she chooses jewels over roses, saying,
‘Everyone knows that jewels cost more than flowers.’
When considering which boy she wants to be with, her logic behind it is the profit she can make out of it. Materialism depends heavily on logic. The fact that she is the professor’s daughter highlights this link between logic and materialism. Similarly to the student, the girl is detached from her feelings and emotions as she sees more value in material possessions than in human beings. The value of a person has diminished in her eyes and her logical mind and materialism has blinded her to what constitutes true, meaningful human relationships. Her logic may seem useful in amassing wealth, but she does not understand what meaningful relationships are.
The nightingale, as opposed to the student and the girl, embodies perfect love; but she is too quick to believe in the student’s love which results in her sacrifice becoming wasted. She offers up her life for the student’s happiness, believing that he is the ideal lover of whom she has been singing day and night. She is naïve to believe so, not realizing that the student desired the girl, not loved her. However, it is her sacrifice of love which creates the red rose, offering the student an opportunity to win over the girl’s heart. Her love is then useful, as it brings hope to the student. Moreover, the nightingale sings of a love that is perfected by death, which seems unreasonable, but has a deeper meaning. Her love places the other person above her own interests; even her own life. She dies to her selfishness in order to offer her love to the student. This act of pure selflessness generates the hope for the boy in the form of a flower. Even though she believes his intentions too quickly, her love is able to create something beautiful. Therefore, her love is the most useful thing in the story. But she lacked the logic to see through the shallow love of the boy, resulting in the symbol of her perfect love being thrown in the gutter.
Therefore, the story explores how perfect love is found only in real selfless sacrifice of one’s self for the other, and how this love can lose all its value and be disregarded when offered to those who fail to realize the true value of it; those who take that love for granted will never value it. Therefore, love needs to be guided by logic.