The Picture Of Dorian Essay Research Paper

The Picture Of Dorian Essay, Research Paper

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is the story of

moral corruption by the means of aestheticism. In the novel,

the well meaning artist Basil Hallward presets young Dorian

Gray with a portrait of himself. After conversing with cynical

Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian makes a wish which dreadfully

affects his life forever. "If it were I who was to be always

young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that I

would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole

world I would not give! I would give my soul for that"

(Wilde 109). As it turns out, the devil that Dorian sells his

soul to is Lord Henry Wotton, who exists not only as

something external to Dorian, but also as a voice within him

(Bloom 107). Dorian continues to lead a life of sensuality

which he learns about in a book given to him by Lord

Henry. Dorian’s unethical devotion to pleasure becomes his

way of life. The novel underscores its disapproval of

aestheticism which negatively impacts the main characters.

Each of the three primary characters is an aesthete and

meets some form of terrible personal doom. Basil Hallward’s

aestheticism is manifested in his dedication to his artistic

creations. He searches in the outside world for the perfect

manifestation of his own soul, when he finds this object, he

can create masterpieces by painting it (Bloom 109). He

refuses to display the portrait of Dorian Gray with the

explanation that, "I have put too much of myself into it"

(Wilde 106). He further demonstrates the extent to which he

holds this philosophy by later stating that, "only the artist is

truly reveled" (109). Lord Henry Wotton criticizes Basil

Hallward that, "An artist should create beautiful things but

should put nothing of his own life into them" (Wilde 25).

Ironically, the purpose of Basil Hallward’s existence is that

he is an aesthete striving to become one with his art (Eriksen

105). It is this very work of art which Basil refuses to

display that provides Dorian Gray with the idea that there

are no consequences to his actions. Dorian has this belief in

mind when he murders Basil. Here we see that the artist is

killed for his excessive love of physical beauty; the same art

that he wished to merge with is the cause of his mortal

downfall (Juan 64). Lord Henry Wotton, the most influential

man in Dorian’s life, is an aesthete of the mind. Basil is an

artist who uses a brush while Wotton is an artist who uses

words: There is no good, no evil, no morality and

immorality;there are modes of being. To live is to experiment

aesthetically in living to experiment all sensations, to know all

emotions, and to think all thoughts, in order that the self’s

every capacity may be imaginatively realized (West 5811).

Lord Henry believes that, "it is better to be beautiful than to

be good" (Wilde 215). Although he attests that aestheticism

is a mode of thought, he does not act on his beliefs. Basil

Hallward accuses him saying, "You never say a moral thing

and you never do a wrong thing" (5). However, Lord Henry

does take the immoral action of influencing Dorian. Although

Lord Henry states that, "all influence is immoral" (Wilde 18),

he nonetheless drastically changes Dorian Gray. As Dorian

acts on the beliefs of Lord Henry, the portrait’s beauty

becomes corrupted. "Lord Henry presents Dorian with the

tenants of his New Hedonism, whose basis is

self-development leading to the perfect realization of one’s

nature" (Eriksen 97). If Lord Henry’s aesthetic ideas have

validity ,Dorian Gray’s portrait should not become ugly, but

rather more beautiful. Since the picture becomes loathsome,

it is evident that Lord Henry’s beliefs are untrue (West

5811). Dorian becomes so disgusted with the horrible

portrait that he slashes the canvas, and the knife pierces his

own heart. Because Lord Henry is responsible for

influencing Dorian Gray, he is partly the cause of the death

of Dorian (5810). While Lord Henry is indirectly the cause

of Dorian’s death, he too causes his own downfall. Lord

Henry changes Dorian with the belief that morals have no

legitimate place in life. He gives Dorian a book about a man

who seeks beauty in evil sensations. Both Lord Henry’s

actions and thoughts prove ruinous, as his wife leaves him

and the remaining focus of his life, youthful Dorian Gray, kills

himself in an attempt to further the lifestyle suggested to him

by Lord Henry. Eventually, he is left destitute, without

Dorian, the art he so cherishes, because he tried to mold it,

as dictated by aestheticism. Of all the protagonists, Dorian’s

downfall is the most clearly recognized. A young man who

was pure at the beginning of the novel becomes depraved by

the influence of Lord Henry. "He grew more and more

enamored of his own beauty, more and more interested in

the corruption of his own soul" (Bloom 121). He begins to

lead a life of immorality, including the murder of his dear

friend Basil Hallward. "There were moments when he

looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could

realize his conception of beautiful" (Wilde 196). However,

there is still a spark of good left in Dorian. He lashes out at

his twisted mentor, Lord Henry, declaring, "I can’t bear this

Henry! You mock at everything, and then suggest the most

serious tragedies" (173). This trace of goodness is not

enough to save Dorian, for he has crossed too far towards

the perverted side of aestheticism and cannot escape it.

"Dorian experiments with himself and with men and women,

and watches the experiment recorded year by year in the

fouling and aging corruption of his portrait’s beauty" (West

5811). Dorian becomes so disgusted with this portrait of his

soul and his conscience, that he slashes the canvas, killing

himself. For Dorian, this is the ultimate evil act, the desire to

rid himself of all moral sense. Having failed the attempt to

escape through good actions, he decides to escape by

committing the most terrible of crimes. Aestheticism has

claimed its final victim. "Basil Hallward is what I think I am:

Lord Henry what the world thinks of me: Dorian Gray what

I would like to be – in other ages, perhaps" (Hart-Davis

352). Because of the endings he creates for these

characters, Oscar Wilde proves that he does not envisions

himself in the immoral characters of this story nor is he

attempting to promote their lifestyles. Of all the characters

whom he creates, he sees himself as Basil, the good artist

who sacrifices himself to fight immorality. "It was his beauty

that had ruined him, his beauty and the youth that he had

prayed for" (Wilde 242). Contrary to Wilde’s claim in the

preface that, "there is no such thing as a moral or immoral

book" (vii), this novel has a deep and meaningful purpose.

"The moral is that an absence of spirituality, of faith, of

regard for human life, separates individuals like Wilde’s

Dorian Gray from humanity and makes monsters of them"

(West 5831). W.H. Auden feels that the story is specifically

structured to provide a moral. He compares the story to that

of a fairy tale, complete with a princess, a wicked witch, and

a fairy godmother. This leaves "room for a moral with which

good every fairy tale ends." Not only is the novel seen as

existing on the pure level of fairy tales, but it is claimed to

contain "ethical beauty" (Auden 146). The Picture of Dorian

Gray is a novel including a moral dialogue between

conscience and temptation that is powerfully conveyed.

Though it is made to seem an advocate for aestheticism on

the surface, the story ultimately undermines that entire

philosophy. Wilde brings the question of "to what extent are

we shaped by our actions" (26). He also demonstrates that

"art cannot be a substitute for life" (Eriksen 104). It is a

fantastic tale of hedonism with a moral to be learned and



Auden, W.H. "In Defense of the

Tall Story." The New Yorker. 29 November 1969.

pp.205-206, 208-210. Bloom, Harold. Oscar Wilde. New

York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985. Ellman, Richard.

Oscar Wilde. New york: Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1987.

Eriksen, Donald. Oscar Wilde. Boston: Twayne Publishers,

1977. Hart-Davis, Rupert. The Letters of Oscar Wilde.

New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1962. Juan,

Efifanio. The Art of Oscar Wilde. New Jersey: Princetown

University Press, 1967. Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian

Gray. New York: Random House, Inc., 1992.


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