Course Hero. "Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide." Course Hero. 6 Oct. 2017. Web. 15 July 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/>.
Course Hero. (2017, October 6). Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 15, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide." October 6, 2017. Accessed July 15, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/.
Course Hero, "Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide," October 6, 2017, accessed July 15, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/.
Word reaches the emperor of China that although travelers to his realm praise the many wonders they find there, the most wonderful of all is a nightingale that sings in the woods—something the emperor didn't even know he had. Intrigued, he orders the bird be brought into his palace to sing for him, and the kitchen maid finds it. The nightingale is willing to sing for the emperor. All who hear it sing, including the emperor, are moved to tears at its marvelous song, and the nightingale is forced to remain at court. Then the emperor receives a marvelously jeweled artificial clockwork bird as a gift from the emperor of Japan. As it can perfectly and predictably perform a complex tune and is much more beautiful than the plain-colored real nightingale, the emperor values the mechanical bird more highly. The live bird, meanwhile, escapes back into his woods.
However, the emperor so overworks the clockwork bird that it breaks. Five years pass and the emperor is on his deathbed, begging the artificial bird to sing. Death appears and takes away the emperor's sword, banner, and crown, for he will not be taking those possessions with him into the afterworld. In the nick of time, however, the real nightingale arrives to sing to Death until he returns these items to the emperor. The grateful emperor recovers and grants the nightingale leave to sing in the forest as it wishes, blessing his realm with a free heart and its beautiful voice.
Andersen's recurring theme of the value of integrity over artifice is prominent in this story. As the emperor of China fawns over the mechanical nightingale, he loses sight of the purity and spontaneity of the true nightingale's song. Instead, he opts for the artificial bird's "perfection," predictability, and glittering appearance. It takes the advent of Death and the nightingale's kind intervention for him to see the real nightingale is not only far superior, but must be left to sing freely.
The story is said to have been inspired by the "Swedish Nightingale," singer Jenny Lind (1820–87). Although Andersen loved her ardently, she did not love him back.