Summary and analysis of Vikram Seth’s The Frog and the Nightingale
Vikram Seth’s The Frog and the Nightingale is a poem in the form of a short story with a moral lesson (an allegory). The frog and the nightingale are the two characters that basically represent humans and human traits. One is talented and modest, and the other cunning and manipulative. Apart from comparing these two types of traits, Seth has highlighted a flaw which is vanity and which leads to the death of the nightingale. Seth’s poem holds important lessons for the entire humanity. While it is good to be talented, being naïve and lacking self-reliance can result in disaster as happened with the nightingale. She was a pleasant bird that sang in a melodious voice, but for her lack of confidence and self-reliance she falls prey to the manipulation of the frog and becomes a victim of his evil plan. The frog misuses her for his gain till she has died and he has grabbed his domain back.
Seth’s poem begins with the story of a frog in a bog. The ugly toad kept singing in his loathsome voice from dawn till dusk. The animals living in the bog had to bear the crass cacophony because the ugly toad was not willing to stop. One would hardly call it singing because everyone knows that frogs can croak and annoy, not sing. He was a determined singer who would not be buzzed by threats or insults. However, the creatures living in the bog were soon to be relieved from his ugly day and night croaking because a nightingale flew to the bog and started singing. As she sang, perched on a tree, the toad was dumbstruck by the melody of her song. The other creatures were also hypnotized by the beauty of her voice. They swam to the tree where the nightingale sang and admired her voice and her melodious song. The nightingale was not used to such grand applause and felt flattered. She sang till dawn break.
Next night, when the Nightingale was again preparing to start singing, she heard a croak and inquired who it was. A frog hopped towards her like a noble man and replied “yes it was me”. He talked to the nightingale and told her that he is the owner of the tree she is sitting upon and that he is well known throughout the bog for his splendid baritone. Like a critic, he talked to her about her song and that she used a good technique but her song was too long and lacked certain critical elements. The manipulative frog could see that the nightingale was an innocent creature and easily fell for flattery. The nightingale easily believed what the frog said and felt flattered that a critic of such renown appreciated her work. She modestly accepted that while she did not believe that her song was divine still it was original and her own.
The frog affirmed that she was a good singer but not as good as she could be with the training only few like him could provide. Without the training she was nothing else but just a beginner and with his training she could prove herself the best of all. This was really too much for the nightingale who had never heard such praise and could hardly see what the frog was trying to do. She was an innocent creature with a great voice and a weakness for praise. In modesty, she called the frog a Mozart in disguise and asked him to guide her. The frog replied that he would charge a modest fee.
The nightingale was feeling enthralled and inspired and sang with such devotion that animals came from miles away to listen to her. The frog charged the animals that came to her concert. Next morning, her training began while it was raining. The training continued for six hours and by the time it ended the nightingale was absolutely deprived of energy and sleep. Again she sang at night as the crowds came to listen and the frog felt a kind of joy that pained him too. Till now, he had ruled the bog but the fame of the nightingale has started making him jealous. Now and again, the frog scolded the Nightingale like a strict coach and served her with pieces of criticism that were meant to demean and break her morale.
As the days passed, nightingale grew more and more tired and weak but what could she do because she was caught in the frog’s trap and could hardly release herself and say a no. The frog had sold her voice and her song which was melodious only till it was free. Now that her song was sold, it lost its charm and with it, her sales declined and at last the ticket office crashed. At the end, the frog pressed her to use her passion and sing at her best. The poor creature puffed her lungs and busted her vein trying to sing at her loudest. Again the frog’s crash voice echoed unrivaled through the bog.
The nightingale has all the traits that can make her a victim of flattery and cunning manipulation. The traits can be found in humans too who become so used to flattery that they cannot see when they start losing hold of their own affairs. The nightingale too lost control because of her lack of self-reliance. Had she been confident and could rely on herself, her song would have remained hers and she would have been free. The loathsome frog kept manipulating her and used her for his own benefit till the poor creature died. So, even if you are a star, you must watch your steps so that others cannot take undue advantage of your weaknesses. Seth’s poem has an important lesson at its center and also makes for interesting reading.