An Analysis of Oscar Wilde’s And Sarah Water’s Demonstration of Victims and Criminals as Shown in the Picture of Dorian and the Little Stranger
How do your chosen authors explore Victims and Villains?
Within the supernatural victims and villains will most likely appear as main plot devices. Throughout The picture of Dorian Gray many fall to his charm and beauty then paying the price with their death for example the enamoured Sibyl Vane who commits suicide at the apparent thought of being rejected by Gray. Faraday in The Little Stanger also has an effect on the Ayres family as he brings an unknown presence into the house which results in the destruction of the family. In spite of individuals playing a part there are other themes in which villains and victims are conveyed such as class as shown in the futile death of James Vane or the inability to adapt to the changing times for Mrs. Ayers. Both Water and Wilde have villains and victims as its trope of the genre but also conveys their ideas about the times.
One way in which the texts present villains and victims is through the theme of class. In a post war era The Little Stranger takes place in a time where social mobility was increasing and the rich, affluent families were beginning to die off. The way Waters shows that the Ayres’ are a victim of this change as in the opening chapter on Empire day the house was resplendent as Faraday explored the “marble- floored passages” filled with “marvellous” things. This shows they used to possess great wealth and have substance with their name . The contrast in aesthetics thirty odd years later when Faraday next visits sees the previous opulence replaced with “signs of decay” shows the effect changing ideas in class system and the war itself have on the affluent families of the time as they lost out financially. The crumbling house could hence be seen as a microcosm for the diminishing families and the people within them. Throughout the novel the Ayres’ can never get enough money together because they don’t know how to make money as before it had been handed to them on the silver spoon when they were born. Most notably Mrs. Ayres who’s in ability to adapt to the times leaves her behind in her time where her family flourished. Waters has inverted the usual trope of the vilified upper class but instead making them the victims which is a supernatural feature as the reader is most likely not used to sympathising for the well to do elite of British society.
In comparison Wilde presents the working class as victims in The picture of Dorian Gray as shown by James Vane. When the bereaved sailor tries to avenge his sister he is killed by “unfortunate accident”. If he had killed Dorian it would have signalled a class triumph but alas the futility of his death reflects how no matter how hard James Vane tried the upper classes will always come out on top. This was a common theme in the writing of the time with such novels such as Bram Stokers Dracula which is essentially the upper class count preying on the witless lower classes. There is little emotive language or pathos in light of dead man as Dorian replies “listlessly” and is “bored” the only reason he takes interest is because James Vane was a threat to him sowing that in the end the upper classes are only interested in themselves. It can also be stated that Sibyl Vane is also a victim of class as they only way she could hope to ever leave the circumstances she was in hinged on marrying a rich man, like Dorian. Working Class actresses was a very lowly job and often coerced with prostitution to make extra money for the owner of the theatre never mind the girl herself. A girl this low in class could never hope to be free from her social trap hence why the nickname “prince charming” is so apt for Dorian as the prince saves the princess from distress to a live of prosperity. The sheer notion that this is possible means for Sibyl Dorian rules “life for us now” indicating the scale at which a plaything of the rich can affect a life like this. Therefore, her suicide is not just the doing of the individual Dorian himself but also the consequences in terms of class as Sibyl surely could not hope to find another suitor as lavish as Dorian with as many doors to new opportunities.
Another way in which villains and victims are presented is the role of influence. Lord Henry plays a significant role in the character development of Dorian as he introduces him to the ideas of hedonism and that he should “give form to every feeling, expression” in his “low musical voice” which ensnares Dorian. Wilde deliberately using the term “musical” to make the readers imagine what pleasant voice Henry must have had thus lulling them in the same way Dorian was. Hence everyone is being put into Dorian shoes making Henry’s words stand out even more. Henry knows that Dorian is an impressionable young man with a lot of money and this shown in the way Dorian “swings” on his chair. This all-taking place in the garden, this could be an allegory to Genesis as Henry represents the snake and entices Dorian to take a bite of the proverbial apple. This also fits into the philosophy of the Dionysian as Henry wants to live a life of degradation and frenzy compared to the apollonian Basil who symbolises order and normality to Dorian. It is Henry who gives him the yellow book which enthrals Dorian so much so he gets them in many different colours or the fact that Henry found “exquisite pleasure” in playing with Dorian even going as far as to describe him as a “experiment”. This shows Henry to be self-interested and perhaps the most villainous character in the novel as sets Dorian on the path of chaos.
Influence is also seen in The Little Stranger in order to present villains and victims through character much like the dynamic Lord Henry. Faraday could be interpreted as a villain of storytelling and the reader the victim. The whole story is from his perspective and the way he is very hazy over various subjects lends to the ambiguity of the story such as right from the start by saying the house was “blurred and uncertain”. This is called an omniscient narrator and fits in very well with gothic literature because a reader puts their whole trust in the narrator when telling the events that occur but what those events appear untrustworthy or peculiar it would give that sense of unease of what’s real and isn’t. Reality is something Faraday seems to manipulate when he feels “out of time and out of place” as in his mind eye he travels to Hundreds Hall and the reader is left pondering is he really travelling there or is it merely a vivid dream. Waters accentuates this liminality by using phrases such as “I see myself cross the silvered landscape and pass like smoke” the adjective “silvered” creating this unnatural colouring to nature jilting reality. Furthermore, the simile “like smoke” evaporates Faraday into some ethereal being contradicting his previous beliefs that nothing supernatural could be going on it was all down to science. This events occurring on the night of Caroline’s death make it all seem to suspect to the reader, as it could be an attempt by the villainous Faraday to lead a path away from the true events and get trust from the reader just how he got eventually got trust from the Ayres’ family. Faraday wishes to lead the reader astray just like how Lord Henry led Dorian Gray onto the path f Hedonism in order to achieve his desires with little regard for anything else.
In conclusion, victims and villains is a theme explored by both novels for an effect. Dorian Gray exposes the predatory nature of the upper classes on the lower classes and the irony in the empty philanthropy discussed in chapter 3. Wilde wants to satire this society who claim to be so generous to the poor when in actual fact they are only self interested. This is switched on its head in The Little Stranger as she victimises the falling apart gentry and the toll time had including the Second World War. Everyone, even the reader themselves are susceptible to being influenced by other and this truth is realised by the two writers who had two heavy influencers to lead the story in various directions all in the aim to achieve a goal in which they may stop at nothing.
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