The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Elements of Gothic Fiction in Dorian Gray
Gothic literature is a genre that is famous for focusing on horror, ruin, decay, the supernatural. The first gothic text that gave birth to the genre is believed to be Horace Walpole’s 18th Century novel The Castle of Otranto. Some theorists believe that gothic writing was a response to the enlightenment period that had taken place just before the genre first became popular in the late 19th century. since its conception, the gothic genre has created some of the most highly praised pieces of literature including Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Many theorists also argue that The Picture of Dorian Gray is a definite gothic text and is called a ‘superb example of late-Victorian Gothic fiction’ as it is a ‘representation of how fin-de-siècle literature explored the darkest recesses of Victorian society and the often disturbing private desires that lurked behind acceptable public faces'(Buzzwell 2014). Along with novels such as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray ‘explore[s] the theme of the human mind and body changing and developing, mutating, corrupting and decaying, and all do so in response to evolutionary, social and medical theories that were emerging at the time. (Buzzwell 2014). This essay will look at how the term gothic raises expectations for certain tropes and aspects of the genre to appear gothic texts clearly and if they do so in The Picture of Dorian Gray and how that effects the story as whole.
One of the key tropes of the gothic genre is the use of the supernatural and unknown powers to help lead the story of Dorian Gray. The gothic genre often has this trait in its texts as it adds a ‘distinct element of feeling which is not drawn from ordinary, or “natural,” experience’ which ‘evokes an echo from the reader’s sense of reality’ (Varnado 2015).
A perfect example of this idea in practice is ghost stories as very few people can claim they have seen ghosts, yet most people are still somewhat afraid of them. An example of this in Dorian Gray is the whole plot point of Dorians relation to the picture as throughout the novel, Dorian does not age but the picture does and at the end, when Dorian dies, the picture returns back to how it once was. The only explanation for this happening is when Dorian exclaims ‘If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that — 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!”. And, just as Dorian gets his wish and never ages, the picture it is said to “Hour by hour, and week by week, the thing upon the canvas was growing old. It might escape the hideousness of sin, but the hideousness of age was in store for it.”
By having the picture age instead of Dorian almost with no explanation other than Dorian ‘giving his soul’ for it, the supernatural trop is fulfilled due to the uncertainty of not knowing how such a phenomenon can come to be and almost create a fear of the unknown which then immediately separates Dorian Gray from being just another text about a rich man to a gothic tale with quite dominant supernatural undertones.
In relation to when Dorian Gray was first released, the supernatural and sci-fi themes were still very new concepts with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein coming out only in 1818, around 70 years before Dorian Gray. Therefore, the supernatural would have had a much bigger impact on 19th century audiences than to modern readers as many of these new concepts; such as vampires and mutant creations, have been, to some extent, overdone in recent years. Therefore the fear and shock from these stories today are incomparable to those of when Dorian Gray was first released.
This then show how supernatural aspects of stories play huge parts in Dorian Gray due to it prominence throughout the genre. Now the supernatural is synonymous with modern gothic texts so modern expectations now could taint what we expect from gothic texts of old and not all classic gothic texts could meet all these new expectations.
An Evil Figure
Another expectation of Dorian Gray is for the devil or some type of evil to play a key roll in setting up the story. Often “gothic text concerns its representation of ‘evil’” as “demonisation of of particular types of behaviour makes visible the covert political views of the text” (Smith 2013)
For many, the aristocrat Lord Henry Wotten is the evil figure in the novel as he is shown to somewhat corrupt Dorian throughout the text. Within the text there are indicators that Henry doesn’t have the best intentions for Dorian as “Basil would have helped him to resist Lord Henry’s influence, and the still more poisonous influences that came from his own temperament”. Henry also is the character to implant the worry of growing old in Dorians mind as he says to him “Some day, when you are old and wrinkled and ugly, when thought has seared your forehead with its lines, and passion branded your lips with its hideous fires, you will feel it, you will feel it terribly…And beauty is a form of genius — is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation”.
As it is Basil, one of the clearer representations of good in the text who realises that Henry is ‘poisonous’ to Dorian, it could be argued that this is a minor instance of good vs evil within the text as they both try to convince Dorian to do very opposite things. This is then further shown by henrys disinterest in basil’s murder, despite them being friends from university. Also, the main cause of dorians downfall was wanting to stay young and beautiful forever, an idea that was only implanted in his head by Henry saying beauty is genius and even more powerful still.
It could be interpreted that Henry just being a plot device to move the story on however, as characters actually within the text acknowledge that Henry isn’t good, it shows that, even within the reality of the story he does not have a good heart.
As Henry Wotten is viewed both in and outside of the text as at least a bad influence it is fair to say that he is at least the antagonist of the novel because he is the only character to do so and an expectation of evil being present within gothic texts suggest this is necessary.
Scary atmospheres are also often created and expected within gothic texts due to these settings working well with the supernatural to create this fear of the unknown which then adds to the non realistic fear that the audience can feel.
These types of settings are often found because ‘characters in Gothic fiction…find themselves in a strange place; somewhere other, different, mysterious. It is often threatening or violent, sometimes sexually enticing’ Bowen (2014) as this relates back to the more common use of gothic, to describe architecture which is often perceived as very grand but also sometimes garish.
Examples of these mood settings include when describing the room that the painting is key in: ‘They walked softly, as men do instinctively at night. The lamp cast fantastic shadows on the wall and staircase. A rising wind made some of the windows rattle’. Also the description of the opium den achieves this gothic atmosphere:‘A cold rain began to fall, and the blurred street-lamps looked ghastly in the dripping mist. The public-houses were just closing, and dim men and women were clustering in broken groups round their doors. From some of the bars came the sound of a horrible laughter. In others drunkards brawled and screamed’.
The use of describing sound creates a very real atmosphere despite just being words on a page as the combination of regular sounds and fear of the unknown due to supernatural aspects adds sinister or somewhat scary undertones. Laughter and screams being described together does this very effectively as they are polar opposite exclamations, representing different feelings, yet them appearing together suggests they could be linked, adding possible extra narratives to the scene.
Many early gothic novels of the time relied on the creation of a creepy atmosphere to add fear to certain emotions from the audience. they also help signify if a location is linked to darker moments of the story. for example, in Dracular, the description of the castle, a setting commonly used in gothic texts, points out to the audience that it is an important setting where some of the more gruesome moments of the text happen.
Compared to other ideas that steam from the gothic genre, creating a somewhat creepy atmosphere is possible one of the most important tropes for authors to stick by as, being in the same genre as Dracula and Jekyll and Hyde, with no atmosphere for the readers to respond to, a text could easily fall short and just be seen as just another sci-fi or horror text. As Dorian Gray creates this atmosphere so well, however, it is now itself viewed as a staple read of the genre and a classic piece of literature in its own right.
Power and Constraint
Finally, power and constraint is another common part of gothic literature and the genre often shows that it is ‘fascinated by violent differences in power, and its stories are full of constraint, entrapment and forced actions’. (Bowen 2014)
The best example of power and violence in Dorian Gray is the murder of Basil Hallward by Dorian. Wilde describes dorian as gaining ‘suddenly an uncontrollable feeling of hatred for Basil Hallward came over him. The mad strong emotions of a hunted animal stirred within him, and he hated the man who was seated at the table, more than he had ever hated anything in his whole life’. Another thing to point out is the depth of the description of the murder and, especially, the blood as it is simply described as ‘Something [beginning] to trickle on the floor’ adding a much more gruesome layer to the act.
This moment signifies an important turning point in the story as Dorians character hasn’t shown overwhelming violence like this thus far in the novel and possibly shows the moment his obsession over the painting and never ending youths effects finally has a lasting effect on dorians character. By describing the emotions as that of a ‘hunted animal’, it shows how Dorian is now loosing parts of who he was in the beginning of the text in exchange for a more primal and animalistic part of his character. Violence is not necessarily a key expectation of the gothic genre but the way Wilde uses it to show how much Dorian has changed from the beginning and marking this almost as the point of no return for the character as the murder of Basil is an event that dorian can not take back nor rewrite. This is now a method that many authors use in their work to signify when a character has reached a milestone in character development.
To conclude, expectations of the gothic genre are mostly met within The Picture of Dorian Gray to a large degree as the novel does in-keep with 4 of the main tropes of the gothic genre to a great deal of success. Despite Dorian Gray not appearing as a gothic text in the beginning, as the story progresses, the novel transforms into one of the finest examples of gothic literature as it sophisticatedly incorporates the main themes of the supernatural, power and constraint and the possible presence of evil concisely into a well developed tale, whilst providing eery settings for the story to take place in. This then means that, whilst there are many expectations that come with being labelled a gothic text, The Picture of Dorian Gray rises to these expectations and stands out from other texts because of it.
Figurative Language and Literary Devices Used in The Picture of Dorian Gray
The setting of the respective novel is essential for the overall development of the characters and the plot as it provides a foundation for the readers to visualize and understand the social as well as the psychological mindset and the typical behaviour during the era. It also sets the gothic mood and atmosphere for the readers as the setting provides an eerie-like ambiance since it was a time when black magic and witchcraft was well feared. Moreso, the setting produces clues as to what to expect in the novel which can be accomplished through referencing one’s historical knowledge regarding the time period. The Picture of Dorian Gray was set around the 19th century also known as the Victorian era, specifically the year 1890 in London, England a period of time when famine, poverty and even racism such as slavery were at an all-time high, while the wealthy almost did absolutely nothing but to continue on with being rich.
Though, the beautiful protagonist Dorian Gray, contradicts from the typical low class family at the time since he was born in a rich, wealthy and luxurious family. He was able to afford and sustain his lavish lifestyle through his father’s money, specifically to support his luxurious entertainment being the highest forms of art – may it be paintings, operas, novels and music – which he glorifies so much, but his love for the arts would later cause an irony as it will be the one that would generate his inevitable downfall. Moreover, poverty was visible in the novel; depicted through women using their body in exchange for money, as well as the immense difference between the prosperous West End which consists of well known places where the riches of the rich hangout, such as “Grosvenor square” and “Curzon street” while on the other hand, the East End which consists of underprivileged citizens and was described by the author Nartia 7 as “a black web of some sprawling spider”. The quotation provides an imagery for the readers to comprehend the dirty, fearful and filthy environment of how the East End looks like; more so, beyond the difference of classes which was represented by the West and East ends, the division of the setting also reflects Dorian’s behaviour. Each ends parallels Mr. Dorian’s two-faced persona. The West End signifies Dorian Gray’s brilliant side, a man who enjoys the arts and is admired by many, while the East End represents the young man’s evil character who commits inhumane immoral acts.
The protagonist of the novel being Dorian Gray is a young man whom most would consider in our society as extremely beautiful; though, his intense desire to stay young and handsome has led him to be corrupt to the point that he’s willing to sell his soul to the devil, to which in return for his non-aging good look, has ultimately produces chains of supernatural events beyond the scientific understanding nor the natural state of nature, conclusively establishing the gothic elements of the novel which adherence to his immoral acts of killing the innocent lives of others as well as his inevitable demise. The youthful Dorian Gray was once innocent and naive, but due to the wrongful guidance of the manipulative Lord Henry, it negatively influenced him to live a morally wrongful life of having such a hedonistic mindset; only caring for one’s youth and beauty while ignoring the struggles of others in the society, as well as neglecting the essential elements of having a genuine life such as being kind and compassionate to others. In addition, his eagerness and longing for a life-time youthfulness and beauty constructed his development towards immortality, in which he exchanges his life for, causing his soul to be trapped in a piece of painting of himself. Moreover, Lord Henry has severely instilled the importance of outer image in Dorian’s head, ultimately altering and reshaping his beliefs, morals and views in life which highlights his distorted judgement. Lord Nartia 3 Henry further tarnish Dorian’s mindset about the significance of beauty, he stated, “Yes, Mr. Gray, the gods have been good to you. But what the gods give they quickly take away. You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully. When your youth goes, your
beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to content yourself with those means triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats”. Lord Henry’s input of Dorian’s physical appearance has reshaped Dorian Gray’s intense obsession for his beauty. Dorian’s desire to have a flawless outer facade further manifests his character to be overly ambitious which consequently caused his downfall, leading him to be prone to all sorts of diseases and illnesses. Moreover, Dorian Gray’s longing to maintain his physical appearance overstrips his intuition to be righteous.
The respective novel is in the point of view of an anonymous third person who has an exclusive insight on every character’s internal thoughts, mindset, feelings and perspective; therefore, such credible ability to read each individual’s minds and personal motives, as well as to fully understand the environmental state or tensions surrounding the characters, establishes the omniscient narrator’s reputation as fair, trustworthy and dependable. The narrator’s ability to know almost everything provides a perspective for the readers to analyze the genuine intentions of the characters without the other characters of the novel fully understanding what one is feeling, it ultimately makes the readers as analytical thinkers as it has an effect on one’s imagination; almost as if it’s forcing the audience to create their own personal assumptions concerning the characters of the novel. It also enables the audience to fully comprehend and understand what is going on, which causes them to be more engaged throughout the literature. Moreover, through the usage of a third person point of view, the readers were able to be aware of every aspect of the play.
The setting of the novel being the nineteenth century is a way to introduce that the novel is in fact gothic, as such literature was becoming a trend during the Victorian era. The Nartia 4 way the narrator describes certain places through the usage of pessimistic and gloomy words was one of the essential elements that has successfully influence the plot to establish its genre as gothic, an example for this would be the room in which Dorian would be locked up in when he was young, ultimately causing his flashbacks regarding his traumatizing childhood. The novel also includes the presence of a demonic character which is depicted through the character of Lord Henry Wotton. Lord Henry was a wicked man of manipulation, leading the innocent Dorian Gray to commit inhumane acts, especifically murder. He also gave a gift to the naive youngman a venomous yellow book, which Mr. Gray would read religiously as if its his holy bible, completely dominating and influencing his ways of life. The symbolism of the yellow book is the potential damage art can do to a vulnerable individual when one is easily and heavily influenced by it. When Dorian Gray wanted to keep his beauty, he stated in the novel “I would give my soul[…]”.
Dorian communicating or bargaining with the devil by surrendering his soul for the sake of an immortal youthfulness and beauty shows another important piece of a gothic element which further contributes to the plot as the demon itself has essentially became a character of its own in the novel. Moreover, a women in distress is also a major material in the respective novel. Sibyl Vane and Dorian Gray has completely fallen in love with each other; though, Dorian’s love for her was external, he only loved her for her beauty. He described Sibyl as “a little flower-like face, a small Greek head with plaited coils of dark brown hair, eyes that were violet wells of passion.” Through analyzing the quote, one can say that Dorian Gray only described Mrs. Vane’s physical appearance, not her personality, which further concludes his supposedly love for her was only lust. The abusive romantic relationship of Sibyl and Dorian was tragically short, as she later killed herself.
The author being alive during the Victorian era has immensely influenced and affected his way of living as he has been exposed to the negativity of the time period; therefore, he Nartia 5 uses the novel as a way to divulge and reveal the hidden barbaric features of it. The respective novel consists of multiple arrays of themes concerning our societies social issues that are still relevant even up to this day. The theme also touches upon the subject of human nature and its vile qualities. Specific themes regarding social issues that were explicitly visible in the novel are: classism which were exhibited and depicted by how the narrator describes the differences and boundaries between the rich East End and the poor West End, sexism or prejudice against women who were described in the novel as simply a charming necessity whose job is to provide sexual pleasure to men, and the conscious ignorance of not providing aid for those who are in need, especially the poor. They would rather exploit and use those who are underprivileged to further maintain their wealth. Other themes that were explored regarding the selfish side of human nature are: how individuals see more of an importance and value to one’s external appearance and physical attractiveness than one’s internal and genuine beauty, how manipulation can negatively influence the mindset of those who are vulnerable, specifically the youth, ultimately leading and reshaping them to be corrupt in one’s society, and how committing evil acts can only provide temporary pleasure and would later cause one’s downfall.
The major conflict of the novel is depicted by the devil-like character of Lord Henry who majorly influenced Dorian Gray’s stance in terms of the value beauty and youthfulness possess, as well as the power it contains. Dorian’s best feature, which is his beauty, is also the cause of the diminishment of his moral which establishes his arrogant persona, as his mindset to having good looks holds more worth in his mind, in which it overstrips his desire of having internal beauty, due to his selfish fear of losing the current pleasure he’s experiencing in which he gains through using his physical appearance. Dorian Gray’s obsession for immortal beauty establishes his major conflict in the novel. His outer facade does not parallel with his characteristics, behaviour and attitude, ultimately causing his demise, an example for this is the way he psychologically abused, mistreated and used Sibyl Vine, his once lover, which she later Nartia 6 killed herself. When Dorian Gray was arguing with Sibyl, he stated “You have killed my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect. I loved you because you were marvellous, because you had genius and intellect, because you realised the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away. You are shallow and stupid.” Dorian’s diction highlights his mistreatment to Sibyl, which is essential to understanding on why she committed suicide, as his ignorant and cruel behaviour has immensely attributed to her decision. Other conflict that caused Dorian his reputation’s downfall is his need to feel and be superior to others. His toxic and obsessive personality trait had influenced his immoral decisions, consequently tarnishing his one’s innocent and well-admired reputation, ultimately leading him to sell his soul to the painting as it might produce happiness, though, his desperation to obtain happiness from the form of looks has generated and led to his miserable state of mind.
The novel exhibits multiple literary devices which produces a double entendre, ultimately developing the literal and figurative meaning of the texts. Lord Henry was a walking allusion throughout the novel as he references a religious belief, specifically the devil, which he conveyed through his diabolical acts of manipulation and evil dictions. Symbolism and allegories were also essential for the development of the plot of the novel as there was a collection of them. May it be the yellow book which signifies Dorian’s intense obsession over such a physical object to the point that it’s affecting how he lives. The yellow book is also a symbol of Lord Henry’s intense control and manipulation over Dorian as he was the one who gave him the book, ultimately leading him to be so addictive which makes the book’s contents as his ideal lifestyle. Dorian Gray’s painting of himself is a living allegory as it is a visual image of Dorian’s soul and inner self in which he exchange for immortal beauty and youth, it also get tarnished everytime he commit something immoral almost as if it is its own character in the novel. The importance and the significance of the painting is gained through the narrator’s diction. He, she Nartia 7 or they stated “This portrait would be to him the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul”. The quote further highlights how the painting portrays Dorian’s inner self: his characteristics, attitudes, behavior and mindset, which the painting turns ugly as it parallels who he truly is on the inside. These examples of figurative language and literary devices helps the readers connect to the storyline to further understand and enjoy the plot.
Oscar Wilde’s Novel The Picture Of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde’ book ‘’Picture Of Dorian Gray” points out a question concerning the balance between the concepts like morality,narcissism, manipulation, strategy, beauty, and tactics. Wilde combines these concepts harmoniously in the human nature itself. The personality of Dorian Gray is controversial. His goodwill is hidden under the fulfill the infinite need of pleasure. The term ‘’The Picture” is a metaphor for the obligation to rebuild the stability between the ethics aesthetics and refusing to acknowledge the fact that they are both exclusive. In the life of Dorian Gray there are two conflicting concepts. Ethical decisions and the desire to live a life that he won’t forget. Wilde observes two contradictory ideology as seeing Dorian Gray as a base. The human itself driven by the desire and live the fullest life and the human itself living a more spirituality based life. The moral and social character is argued in the book. Dorian sees woman as objects that amuses him. He sees woman as amusers. This is the part of Dorian Gray’s character. Part of his amusing life. Book argues the concepts such as both beauty of the soul and the beauty of one’s appearance.
The portrait of Dorian Gray which is painted by the painter Basil Hallward is a way to show the idea of the spoiled human and spoiled spirit.It shows that how art can have a horrible influence over a person.Dorian allowed himself to be influenced by the painting. Artist Basil met Dorian and immediately ispired by the beauty of Dorian Gray. He painted countless amount of paintings of him.An example of what may happen to a person if they choose the correct path. Gray has some narcissistic need and he tries to fulfill them, not thinking the consequences it may cause and how damaging it could be to a troubled soul.
In this paintings the painter Basil portrayed Dorian as mythological figures and heroes. The beauty of Dorian was very inspiring th Basil. The compliments he gave to Dorian kept Dorian alive,young and powerfull. But the feelings of Basil was a little bit more than art. He was in love with Dorian. He painted Dorian in his true likeness. Basil showed his art to his friend Lord Henry Wotton because he was worried if he had revealed too much of his feelings toward Dorian. Lord Wotton appreciates and admires the beauty and the youth of Dorian as well as Basil did. He tells Basil that this portrait is his greatest masterpiece and the most perfect, flawless thing he has ever seen in his life. After all of these compliments Doriand thinks that beauty is the only iportant aspect of life and he will trade every single thing for a life long youth and beauty.While Dorian is living a self-centered life and seeing himself the most flawless human being Wilde shows us Dorian still cares how he lookes in others eyes and care about his image.
The double life he is living he even has to attend a party after commiting a murder. He enjoys his double life because it contains good and evil at the same time and gives him the pleasure he is trying to fulfill.This double life style is actually mirroring Oscar Wilde’s real life. Dorian Gray is kind of the fictional character of Wilde. Aestheticism can only be beneficial when accompanied by the morally acceptable and correct behaviour.
Wilde critic one of the biggest flaws of our time.Valueing the beauty of the outside regardless of receiving any bad consequence for the morally lacking behaviours. The main idea of the book can be seen as the importance of aestheticism has gone far to a point thhat when one can’t observe the consequences of the self destruction. Book doesn’t deny the importance of joy and the importance of beauty and moral behaviours. The book states those are mutually exclusive. When writing yhe book and creating the character Dorian Gray Wilde was talking about the society and criticise the controversy on morality and living styles.
This book is a hard criticism among the society. Wilde is disappointed i the society.The character Lord Wotton is a stone to the devil. He tricked Dorian in to becoming haan half monster. He destroyed Dorian in every single aspect.The description Basil makes about Dorian is ‘’never says anything good but never does anything bad either.” This is a full rock thrown at the society. The book ”Picture of Dorian Gray” states the importance of morality and morally right behaviour as the right and only way to find balance between ethics and beauty but jmost importantly find the stability between good and bad, right and wrong.Beauty on the outside isn’t enough unless it is crowned with inner beauty, good morals, manners and ethics.
Two Sides Of One Person in Picture of Dorian Gray
The novel shows us “the terrible pleasure of a double life”. How far is this a fair summary of the novel?
As a novel that essentially mirrors its author’s own life of trying to find himself whilst being victim under the hypocrisy of the seemingly pious and morally rectified Victorian society, The Picture of Dorian Gray succeeds in showing us “the terrible pleasure of a double life”. However, disputably such can be a fair summary, as the terrible pleasure of a double life that Dorian leads is a result of the hedonistic but paradoxical influence of Lord Henry’s asyndetic “fascinating, poisonous, delightful theories”, the juxtaposition of Dorian’s nature making him the “son of love and death” and his faustian pact with his portrait. In contrast, whether it can be seen as a terrible double life that Dorian leads can be questioned, due to Dorian’s indulgence in the infamous Yellow Book and Wilde’s own beliefs.
Lord Henry’s paradoxical influence on Dorian in the first chapters of the novel leads to Dorian pursuing a sinful but indulging double life. The use of metaphor and grotesque gothic imagery when Lord Henry declares to Dorian, “we degenerate into hideous puppets” implies the irony of Lord Henry; how he warns Dorian of the horrors of losing ones youth, whereas he, aged, remains an embodiment of the hypocrisy of Victorian society and the facade of moral rectitude, concealing the seedy underbelly of vice, corruption and poverty it truly was, and its condemnation on Wilde at his libel trial in 1895 using the novel as evidence for homosexual behaviour. Furthermore, Lord Henry’s exclamatory and declarative aphorisms like “Be always searching for new sensations” mirrors Walter Pater’s Renaissance which details “to burn always, with this hard gem-like flame, is success in life”. Pater was a tutor of Wilde’s at Cambridge, clearly suggesting that Pater had a strong influence on Wilde, due to his own characters like Lord Henry sharing similar values. Thus Pater’s influence on Wilde mirrors Lord Henry’s on Dorian, which Wilde displays through the flame image motif of life becoming “fiery-coloured” for Dorian, as, in a faustian pact, he sells his soul to the devil for eternal youth and beauty whilst forming a new life of sin which the portrait will accumulate and thus decay.
It can be argued that Lord Henry, as well as Dorian, encapsulates the terrible pleasure of a double life, because as a philosophical, witty dandy, he is responsible for Dorian’s yielding to his “exquisite temptations”; an allusion to the Our Father which would have frightened the novel’s Victorian audience due to the “terror of God” therefore it can be seen as a summary of the novel’s social context and the influence it had. However, Lord Henry, the cowardly, vicarious flaneur who never acts upon his beliefs, and instead who sculpts Dorian in his “curious crucible of pain and pleasure”, lives no life at all, so it can’t be a fair summary to conclude of the novel.
In forming a Faustian pact by selling his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal youth, Dorian is arguably forming a doopelganger, and thus a double life; one that harbours the sin and corruption and deteriorates throughout the novel. In Chapter Thirteen, Wilde uses personification to convey the “leprosies of sin [that] were slowly eating the thing away” and the gothic imagery is reminiscent of the 19th century gothic idea of ‘the Monster within’, which explores how “hell is decidedly on earth, located within the vaults and chambers of our own minds” (McGrath & Morrow, p.xiv). Therefore, the painting encapsulates the gothic idea of horror coming from within one’s self, and therefore emphasises the idea of a double life – however whether this can be seen as a terrible pleasure is controversial. Helen Davies argues: “The painting comes to function as a moral barometer of Dorian’s own soul”. Clearly, the painting does seem to accumulate and decay after each sin that Dorian commits, and Dorian is aware of this, seen in the use of free indirect discourse: “would be to him the visible emblem of conscience” but the caveat “would be” suggests that although Dorian is aware of the terrible side of this double life, he never retreats from indulging in its horror; after all, Lord Henry has taught him to see it as a “pleasure”. However, Davies fails to address Wilde’s prefatory epigram: “there is no such thing as a moral or immoral book” therefore although it is clear the double life that Dorian has formed delights him, I cannot agree on it being a ‘terrible’ pleasure, thus it can’t be a fair summary to conclude of the novel.
Moreover, it can be argued that Dorian has lead a double life since the day he was born, and as a result of his inherent nature. In the early chapters of the novel, we learn of his back story; that he was left orphaned after the death of his beautiful aristocratic mother, Lady Margaret Devereux, after the seemingly staged death of his poor “penniless subaltern” father in a duel. Here, Wilde presents us with a dichotomy of setting, like Jekyll and Hyde, which he presents throughout the novel, of social class, which means Dorian can shift between the “sordid shame” of London, which Wilde evokes using sibilance here to accentuate the height of poverty in Victorian society, and the luxurious upper-class settings of “Curzon Street”. Moreover, the personification later utilised to present the “grey, monstrous London” not only shows the extent to which Wilde is criticising the corruption of London, a place so driven by industrialisation that it cares little for its people, but shows how divided Dorian is as a person. His surname could act as a homophone for the colour “grey” therefore suggesting a double life in itself; ill-defined and morally ambiguous.
In contrast, it can be argued that Dorian does not lead a double life but instead lives many, after being influenced by the Yellow Book, that Lord Henry gives him. In regards to the novel’s structure, it could be that it is split into two parts; chapters 1-10 rooting from the double life formed under Lord Henry’s influence: the first being his unblemished youthful aristocrat, and the second being the false “echo” of Lord Henry that pursues pleasure. However, the middle is chapter 11, which arguably digresses from the novel, as Dorian’s indulgence in French Decadent literature and fascination with its Parisian hero, causes him to form more double lives: the hero, the opium den visitor and public scandal. Subsequently, this leads to chapters 12-20: the inexorable fate of Dorian, that Wilde explicitly displays in “become a prefiguring type of himself”. Therefore, structurally, although chapters 1-10 elicit the result of a formation of a double life under the influence of Lord Henry, chapter 11 and the last chapters there on cover the duplicity of the lives that Dorian creates, thus the novel showing us the terrible pleasure of a double life, is not a fair summary to make.
Overall, to make the summary that the novel shows us the “terrible pleasure of a double life” would not be fair because, although Dorian forms a double life of poor, rich, heroic and cowardly, paradoxically, he is forming multiplicity of lives that he seeks to carry out. In ‘Critic as Artist’ (1891), Wilde states “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. As does Dorian Gray: he covers himself of many masks, of many lives and he tells the truth. This truth, being the truth of his portrait, reveals the terrible pleasure of sin and corruption, dooming Dorian Gray.
The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Exemplary Piece of Literature to Emulate
‘Characters in the novel have few redeeming qualities, making the novel more of a cautionary tale than a model for emulation’. How far do you agree?
As a primarily phallocentric novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray features characters who harbour few redeeming qualities, and this can be argued in light of Basil’s fierce dedication to Art itself, and the arguably temporary effect it has on Dorian, whom he sincerely declares “a motive in Art”. However, it can be argued characters such as Lord Henry, vicarious ambivalent lifestyle ultimately embody none, and instead serve as a catalyst to unravel the corruption of Dorian. Thus the novel cautions against the dangers of societal forces on one’s self and being true to one’s self, and reveals the question of whether it can be a model for emulation in light of corruption, influence and aesthetic ideals.
Lord Henry arguably has few redeeming qualities, as his paradoxical nature means he is never true to himself. His aphoristic declaratives, “All influence is immoral…from the scientific point of view” highlights how he embodies the hypocrisy of the Victorian society at the time when the novel was written, where even though there were extortionate levels of poverty, crime and children living in squalor, the fin-de-siècle “Terror of society” and “God” remained prevalent. Furthermore, Wilde alludes to the idea of temptation in regards to the prelapsarian state, when he exclaims, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it”, suggesting his hypocrisy as he never yields to any of his temptations himself as a flaneur, which means he doesn’t possess many redeeming qualities. Moreover, his hedonistic influence on Dorian, to “give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream”, and Wilde’s clever use of parallelism indicates how on one hand, Lord Henry perhaps bears some redeeming qualities in the sense that he acts a patrician lens for Dorian’s to see how his youth’s “passionate purity” will privilege him. However, as Wilde alliteratively elucidates, Lord Henry is the flaneur that remains unchanged in his “curious crucible of pain and pleasure”. Therefore, Lord Henry has few to arguably no redeeming qualities as a result of the fact he never does act upon his emotions, but sees other characters like Dorian self-destruct when they abide to them.
In regards to Lord Henry, the novel can be seen as a cautionary tale for the societal forces on one’s self and less of a model for emulation, because upon being a model, it would suggest a certain moral high-ground, which Wilde disagreed upon his prefatory epigram, “There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book”. Wilde’s symbol of the “common laburnum” for Lord Henry could represent how some higher societal circles, due to his poisonous tongue and ideas, forsake him. The idea of the societal forces forsaking him could act as the aesthetic ethos “Art for Art’s sake” forsaking his own distorted view of Art as “procuring extraordinary sensations”. Wagatsuma argues: “Lord Henry Wotton’s aestheticism echoes to a certain extent the Rousseauean idea that civilisation mars the individual’s innate good”. This is indeed true as one can argue the effect that civilisation and Lord Henry has marred Dorian, whose inherent wealth and dualistic nature being the “son of Love and Death” and Faustian pact formed to preserve his eternal youth and beauty corrupts him and others. On the other hand, I disagree in the sense that Lord Henry’s sensual primacy to Aesthetics doesn’t echo the Rousseauean idea, but instead echoes the Calvinistic idea that evil, just like our sensual impulses, is an inborn feature of human nature since the fall of man, as Dorian argues: “There is a Heaven and a Hell in all of us”. Therefore, in light of this depolarisation of good and evil, Dorian embodies the caution of societal forces such as Lord Henry’s distorted view of aestheticism corrupting himself and others, making the novel a cautionary tale and so less of a model but an indication of where emulation can lead one to.
I agree to an extent that Basil bears few redeeming qualities, but it is simply the way the context in which they were presented in that could suggest otherwise. He is the only character that is close to prefiguring the characters’ fates (apart from Lord Henry’s) when he cries “my brains, such as they are – my Art, whatever it may be worth; Dorian Gray’s good looks – we shall all suffer for what the Gods have given us, suffer terribly”. The use of caveats here indicates Basil’s appreciation for what he has, and where it will inevitably lead him. He can be seen as a pioneer of Aestheticism, but on the other hand, a failure. For example, on one hand he clearly abides to the preface statement “To reveal Art and conceal the Artist” by stressing that his suggestively homoerotic “fascination” for Dorian has driven him to exclaim the truth of Dorian’s beauty. However, he could be seen as a failure as the outdated, anachronistic version of Aestheticism; Victorian society at the time would’ve been replete with corruption, as shown in Walter Sickett’s Art. Therefore, in a way, Basil embodies the how the novel is a caution against dedication to Art, seeing as his infatuation with Dorian ultimately leads him to be murdered. However, in light of Basil, the novel can be seen as a model for emulating the wrong Aesthetic ideals, as his somewhat mother-like figure as the holder of Dorian’s youth as the painter, in the Freudian sense, soon results in Dorian “loathing” his own portrait. Therefore although Basil bears few redeeming qualities in his dedication to his Art, the way Wilde himself responded that, “Good people exasperate one’s reason; bad people stir one’s imagination”, suggests that Wilde’s constructed the novel as a caution against excessive dedication to Art.
It can be argued that Dorian either holds redeeming qualities in regards to his innocent, youthful veneer he once harboured before meeting Lord Henry, or does not at all in the sense that whether he seeks to redeem himself throughout the novel. It can be argued that it was not his fault that he came under the influence of Lord Henry and pursued a life of sin, due to his dualistic nature. In fact, his surname ‘Gray’ clearly stands as a homophone for the colour, connoting an undefined, ambiguous demeanour which suggests that despite the dichotomy between his aristocratic mother and “penniless subaltern” father, it is unfair to argue that he holds no redeeming qualities, to say the least; and perhaps Wilde supports this through his indulgence in using colourful alliteration, “passionate purity” to convey Dorian’s beauty. However, Wilde’s exclamatory syntax: “I would give my soul for that!” ultimately makes the reader instantly observe Dorian as a naive character as he forms a Faustian Pact, which unlike Faustus did to gain perpetual knowledge of the universe from Mephistopheles, Dorian perhaps forms to take advantage of others and follow as an aping of Lord Henry’s. I can see that the novel could act as a model for emulation in the sense that Dorian arguably, since he was under the influence of Lord Henry, wears Lord Henry’s influence as his mask to shield himself from atoning for his sins. However, it is to a greater extent that the novel is a cautionary tale against not being true to one’s own self, as in doing so, Dorian is not pursuing the individualistic view of life that ultimately condemns him.
To conclude, The Picture of Dorian Gray is to a greater extent a cautionary tale than it is a model for emulation. Even though Wilde wanted to ensure that the novel emulated the harsh truth of Victorian corruption and was condemned at his libel trial in 1895 for ‘gross indecency’, the novel acts not only as a cautionary tale in regards to being true to one’s self under the pressure of societal forces, but a caution against not being able to control Art itself: this resulting in the deaths of Dorian and Basil.
A Question Of Morality According to The Picture of Dorian Gray
Morality in The Picture of Dorian Gray
Morality and one’s own moral scale plays a large role in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Morality can be described as one’s own principles regarding the distinction between right and wrong. One’s moral scale is constantly shifting due to factors in the world around them, which is usually the people one surrounds themselves with. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian finds himself committing wicked actions due to changes in his moral scale. In the novel, we see that Dorian is made aware of his youthful good looks and wishes to be young forever. He then uses this to his advantage as he is able to get away with committing horrific acts because of his good looks. Regardless of this, the shift in Dorian’s moral scale and thus the wicked acts he commits are a result of Lord Henry’s mentorship rather than his own pursuit of eternal youth.
Lord Henry’s Morals in The Picture of Dorian Gray
Starting in the very beginning of the novel, it is made obvious that Lord Henry’s morals do not align with what one would a consider a highly moral person. We immediately see that Lord Henry is amoral. This lack of morality is portrayed when he is discussing his marriage with Basil as he says “You seem to forget that I am married, and the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties. I never know where my wife is, and my wife never knows what I am doing” (Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 3). Saying that deception is necessary in a marriage contradicts what a marriage should be about. Deception/lying is the last thing that should be present in a good marriage. This idea gives initial insight into where Lord Henry’s morals lie.
Later in the story, Lord Henry gives us another look into what his morals are. While he is having a conversation with Dorian and Basil, Lord Henry states “Discord is to be forced to be in harmony with others. One’s own life – that is the important thing. As for the lives of one’s neighbours, if one wishes to be a prig or a Puritan, one can flaunt one’s moral views about them, but they are not one’s concern. Besides, individualism has really the higher aim” (Wilde 57). Lord Henry is saying that one should not be concerned with other people as it is more important to be concerned with one’s self. He stresses that individualism is way more important than being worried about other people. Lord Henry then goes on to state “Women, as some witty Frenchman once put it, inspire us with the desire to do masterpieces, and always prevent us from carrying them out” (Wilde 58). By saying this, Lord Henry is saying that women inspire men to be great but they hold them back from actually obtaining greatness. Through Lord Henry’s statements regarding marriage, individualism, and women, we see that he is selfish and amoral. He is truly only concerned with himself and not those around him.
Dorian Gray in the beginning of The Picture of Dorian Gray
In the beginning of the novel, Dorian is portrayed as being young and handsome as well as pure. He is neither highly moral or amoral, he is immoral. This young innocence is best described by Lord Henry when he notes that “he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely-curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity” (Wilde 11-12). Dorian is a handsome young man who has never done anything un-pure. His youth and innocence go hand and hand with each other and this makes it easy for anyone to trust him. Lord Henry immediately notices this which leads to him wanting to influence him.
Lord Henry’s Influence Over Dorian
Shortly after Lord Henry meets Dorian and notices the distinct characteristics, he wastes no time before talking to him and influencing him with his ideals. When talking to Dorian, Lord Henry says “Don’t squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, or the vulgar. […] Be always reaching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing […] The moment I met you I saw that you were quite unconscious of what you really are” (Wilde 16-17). Lord Henry immediately tries to instill his selfish values upon Dorian. He wants Dorian to enjoy his youth and not waste any of time helping others. He believes that Dorian should only be focused on himself and finding new pleasures in life. Soon after Lord Henry’s initial introduction to Dorian, he is thinking to himself when he notes “he would try to be to Dorian Gray what without knowing it, the lad was to the painter […] He would seek to dominate him – had already, indeed, half done so” (Wilde 27). Lord Henry wants to influence Dorian in the same way that Dorian influenced Basil. He wants to shape the way that Dorian sees the world. Lord Henry is aware that he has already made a strong impression on Dorian, but he knows that there is still more to be done if he wants to fully transform him.
Early on the novel we are told of Lord Henry’s amoral views on marriage and women. He then tries to use these ideas to influence Dorian to feel a similar way. While having a conversation with Dorian, Lord Henry says “’Never marry at all, Dorian. Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious: both are disappointed. […] My dear boy, no women is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say” (Wilde 34). Lord Henry takes his views on marriage and his personal experience to influence Dorian to not want to get married. He wants Dorian to enjoy his youth as marriage could get in the way of that. As soon as Dorian mentions him being in love with a genius actor, Lord Henry states that women can’t be geniuses and refers to them as a “decorative sex”. By telling this to Dorian, Lord Henry wants to influence him to adopt his immoral views of women since being in a marriage may ruin the person that Lord Henry wants Dorian to be.
When Dorian finds out that he has essentially murdered Sibyl Vane he is at first devastated as he exclaims “Oh Harry, how I loved her once! It seems years ago to me now. She was everything to me” (Wilde 72). Lord Henry proceeds to influence Dorian by saying “But you must think of that lonely death […] as a strange lurid fragment from some Jacobean tragedy […] The girl never really lived, and so she has never really died […] The moment she touched actual life, she marred it, and it marred her, and so she passed away” (Wilde 75). Lord Henry was able to convince Dorian that Sibyl’s death was less real than a death in a play. Since Sibyl was an actress, she never really lived and therefore she never really died. At this point, it is made clear just how much of an influence Lord Henry has had on Dorian’s morals as he is able to now look past the death of a women he once loved.
Dorian’s Moral Regression throughout the story
Dorian begins the shift to being amoral early on in the novel. Dorian is planning to go to the theatre with Lord Henry and Basil would rather he not go as he says “’Don’t go to the theatre to-night, Dorian […] Stop and dine with me’” (Wilde 22). But regardless of what Basil wants, Dorian responds by saying “’I can’t, Basil […] Because I have promised Lord Henry Wotton to go with him’” (Wilde 22). This scene represents Dorian’s shift from the high moral ways of Basil to the amoral ways of Lord Henry. Dorian choses to leave Basil to go to the theatre with Lord Henry just as he chooses to leave the pure and innocent life behind and choose a life of selfishness and lacking morals.
Following this incident, the next event that displays a major shift in Dorian’s values is his relationship with Sibyl Vane. Though he had previous broken Sibyl’s heart, he initially wanted to make amends and even not see Lord Henry anymore as he knew the influence that he was having on him. When referring to the incident and Dorian’s thoughts, the narrator states “He would resist temptation. He would not see Lord Henry anymore […] He would go back to Sibyl Vane, make her amends, marry her, try to love her again. Yes, it was his duty to do so” (Wilde 67). Dorian understands that he has done wrong and is not amoral at this point in the story. He knows that the right thing to do is to marry Sibyl Vane regardless of if he loves her or not. Once he learns of her suicide and meets with Lord Henry, he is then able to shrug off her death and move on quickly. While later talking to Basil, Dorian refers to Sibyl’s death as “one of the great romantic tragedies of the age” (80). This incident displays Dorian shifting further on the moral scale to being amoral.
The final incident that displays Dorian’s complete lack of morals comes later on in the novel when he murders Basil. The narrator states “Dorian Gray glanced at the picture, and suddenly an uncontrollable feeling of hatred came over him […] He rushed at him, and dug the knife into the great vein that is behind the ear, crushing the man’s head down on the table” (Wilde 116). Basil had higher morals than anyone else in the novel. Dorian’s murder of Basil represents his complete loss of morals as Basil cared for Dorian in a way that wasn’t selfish. After the murder, it is clear that Dorian has been completely corrupted by Lord Henry and is now amoral.
One could argue that Dorian’s moral scale shift and becoming amoral is a result of his youth/desire for eternal youth and the vainness that came along with it. He could have been doomed due to his amoral ways regardless if Lord Henry had been influencing him or not as Dorian was simply being his real self. The idea of Dorian’s desire for eternal youth is brought up early in the novel when he exclaims “How sad is it! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young […] If it were only the other way!” (Wilde 19). Dorian continues to exclaim that “When I find that I am growing old, I shall kill myself” (Wilde 19). Through Dorian’s desire to remain young forever, he becomes vain and selfish. When Basil is upset with Lord Henry for negatively influencing Dorian, Lord Henry responds with “It is the real Dorian Gray – that is all” (Wilde 20). Dorian was not an amoral person when the novel began. He neither had high morals or was amoral. He was simply an innocent young man. It was Lord Henry who instilled his wretched ideas into Dorian along the way until Dorian eventually became amoral. Had Lord Henry not been influencing Dorian, he would not have abandoned and killed Sibyl Vane and he thus would not have killed Basil. Lord Henry knowingly worked to corrupt Basil throughout the course of the novel.
By the end of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian was amoral. He committed multiple wicked acts against innocent people. He began the novel as an innocent young man but as a result of Lord Henry’s mentorship rather than his own pursuit of eternal youth, he only cared about his looks and began to live a selfish life without regard for others.
Balancing Of Good And Evil in ‘Dracula’ And ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’
Dracula and the Picture of Dorian Gray were both books written a long time ago where they were supposed to shock the original readers. Dracula is a novel written by Bram Stoker. It is set in the Victorian era, but much of the novel takes place in Dracula’s dank and eerie castle. The plot centers around a young English lawyer who travels to Castle Dracula in Transylvania to explain the logistical details to Count Dracula who wants to purchase a house in England. But in reality, the Count wants to move there, so he can find new blood and spread vampirism. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a book written by Oscar Wilde. It was set in the Decadent artistic movement of the late nineteenth century, the plot centers around a young handsome man name Dorian who meets a painter that became captivated with him and uses him as a model. Lord Henry pays the painter a visit to see his latest work and spots the young man on the painting and begins to introduce him to the hedonistic pleasures of the city. In both of the novels the characters struggle with balancing good and evil, due to corruption/pleasures, duplicity, and purity.
Different environments can make people change into a good person or an evil one. For instance, let’s say a person has a bad group of friends that their parents wouldn’t agree with. If they are doing something that could be considered a bad influence on the person then after a while, the person will get used to the bad actions and believe that if their doing it and haven’t faced the consequences then it must be okay if they do it to. These circumstances are similar to how these characters become corrupted in their stories.
In the Picture of Dorian Gray, we see a naïve young man named Dorian who wants to fit into a bad society even though fitting in would lead him toward the path of corruption. In following this path, he was turned into a worse version of the “devil” also known as Lord Henry. It was foreshadowed that Lord Henry found that “there was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence “and succeed in “molded him”. The novel states “Don’t spoil him. Don’t try to influence him. Your influence would be bad” it was concluded that the Lord Henry was capable of corruption and would eventually turn the main character evil. He is so captivated by living the life he doesn’t even know that he has changed. He questions himself after a major incident but then hears the “devil” tell him that all is forgiven if he ignores it. In Dracula, the villain wants to move away from where he has lived for many years to a new place to wreak havoc on innocent people. Ultimately the corruption (need for blood) makes him go frantic and lead him to his downfall. The narrator states that “he suddenly made a grab at my throat. I drew away and his hand touched the string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change in him, for the fury passed so quickly that I could hardly believe that it was ever there.” In the beginning, we see that corruption changes him into a different person. But when that is taken away he is back to normal. Because of the being that he now is, it forces him to eschew others so he doesn’t reveal his true self. As the narrators in both novel show how the villains maneuver among the temptations or corruptions of life, they are reminded that everyone has their own corruptions to deal with and demons with which to battle.
Some people argue that being deceitful is associated with being evil. As humans, we tell lies it’s a fundamental part of being human. But like the saying “there is nothing hidden that will not be reveled” we see that it does happen to the characters in the story. For, the main character in the Picture of Dorian Gray we see that he has a corrupt soul and yet the exterior of beauty and innocence hide the evil from the onlookers. The narrator explains, “When the blood crept from his face and left behind a pallid mask of chalk, he would keep the glamour of boyhood” (Wilde 103). He was thought as an angel because they expected him to never do anything bad because of how he looks. He has this false image that is projected to the people who don’t really know him. Everything bad that has happened to other people that he causes changes him and the people who he hurts which in turns, makes him feel better about himself, so he continues to do it again and again; hence making him an eviler person. In Dracula, we see the same problem. For instance, look at Count Dracula he appears as a respectable somewhat nice old gentleman. But that wasn’t true the narrator states that “his eyes blazed with a sort of demoniac fury”. It states all the good and none of the evil about him but later he blunders, and we see the true side of him. Being deceitful is his way to change his appearance of an evil savage beast. As it is seen in both novels we do indeed see that truths come out. And being deceitful is considered being evil. But considering that these books came out long ago that could play a factor.
There’s a difference between being pure and good and being bad and evil. Being fully pure isn’t exactly a good thing. But neither is being fully evil. To amplify this cause, it can be seen that in the Picture of Dorian Gray there is a girl named Sybil, the book described her as being pure and young. The text says that, “Her flower like lips touched the withered cheeks and warmed its frost”. Using this as an example shows that maybe being all pure will lead to your downfall. It’s kind of the same way with flowers they are pretty and pure but they only last so long. But maybe having a good balance between good and evil will make them last longer without any problems. In Dracula, they associate woman with being evil. In most cases women are thought to be pure but in this story, they aren’t. A female character named Lucy was characterized as “looking sweet and pretty in her white frock”. She was always seen wearing white and the color is associated with purity. It was thought that she was pure before meeting Dracula, but after changing into a different being we see that she becomes evil. She changed into a whole different person when she begins to arrogate children and has to be stopped. There’s was nothing the same about her after she changed. She was also the first out of the group to get corrupted. Being pure and naive isn’t a good thing we see that in both of the stories. Purity is setting you up for corruption. This novel shows that the innocent is usually the first and easiest to be corrupted.
At some point in life people all have a low point. Could corruption change people like they did these two characters in the books? Will they make it before it’s too late to be saved? Could one little mistake make their world come crashing down? These thoughts are conflicting. In both books, the villains do come to accept what has become of them and even realize their mistakes at the end. But only realize after finding a banal of balancing out evil and good, and staying away from corruption/pleasures, duplicity, and purity.
Morality and Immorality (The Picture of Dorian Gray and A Streetcar Named Desire)
The measure of a man’s character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.
Morality is the very foundation of goodness and the pillar of righteousness. Immorality, however, is the threshold towards conspicuous malevolence. These two extremes are often but a step between which we are baffled and bemused. Morals undeniably establish the confinements of one’ behaviour in any given society. Should these principles crumble, ethical boundaries would give way to anarchical freedom. Both works explored in this analysis illustrate the succumbing to immoral conduct for selfish purposes. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, we are intrigued by a charming Englishman who discards his innocence and embraces loathsome hedonism. Tennessee Williams A Streetcar Named Desire confronts us with a stout and virile figure who abides to no opposing authority than his own. Two unscrupulous characters surface from different worlds with the equivalent dismissal of moral values common to humankind. Although one is characterised by beauty and the other, by potency, they share the same vivid animation of unrestrained cruelty. It is in their ominous acts that their factual embodiment is exposed. Wilde and Williams reveal, through these depraved beings, the basis of humanity’s intrinsic flaw: the loss of inhibitions. I will further discuss, by means of relevant characters, the yearning for moral ideals as well as the clinging onto immoral philosophies.
Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is set during the late nineteenth century England, a period marked with the exceeding importance of social stature and personal image. The protagonist, Dorian Gray, rises as the archetype of male pulchritude and youth. His aristocracy and stunning beauty enthral his surroundings. He often poses for Basil Hallward, an artist of great talent whose art is inspired by Dorian’s charisma. While Basil’s most prodigious painting is in the midst of being completed, Dorian is introduced to Lord Henry Wotton, a cynical philosopher and skilful orator. Dorian is easily seduced by his manipulative tongue and his scornful theories. Wotton envisions fashioning, corrupting the vulnerable boy into an unrelenting hedonist. Through him, Dorian faces the harsh realisation that his physical attributes are ever fading. Upon this sudden insight, he dreads the physical burden of ageing. He envies the perpetual attractiveness of Basil’s masterpiece. …If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that – 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 p. 31). The materialisation of this wish and the metamorphosis it will ensue are to bring his demise.
Dorian’s figure remains immaculate while the picture bears his abhorrent transformation. This is first confirmed following his amorous liaison with Sibyl Vane, an actress he meets at an infamous theatre. Like him, she is characterised by an entrancing beauty and a youthful naivety. Mesmerised by one another, they promptly exchange vows of fidelity. Dorian invites Henry and Basil to the theatre, if only to be dreadfully embarrassed by Sibyl’s artificial performance. In a fit of anger yet unknown to him, Dorian reluctantly reprimands his fiance. You are shallow and stupid. My God! How mad I was to love you! What a fool I have been! You are nothing to me now (Wilde p. 98). This vindictive refusal leads to her suicide. Upon returning to his dwelling, he is bewildered by a hideous discovery: his portrait had slightly altered, hinting the sinful transfiguration that would occur throughout his debauched existence.
Dorian conveys strong feelings of contrition upon learning of Sibyl’s needless death. He is conscious of his wrongdoing and feels profoundly culpable. However, Lord Henry encourages him to discard the incident and to revel in his present freedom. Dorian is torn apart as his egoism weighs heavily over his conscience. By overlooking the death he caused and indulging in pleasure, Dorian incarnates Lord Henry’s philosophy. With the knowledge of his physical imperviousness to the aftermath of any consequence, he adopts hedonistic values. The complete denial of responsibility in Sibyl’s death is but the beginning of his moral degradation. He relishes in observing the mutilation of the picture, thus his soul. His further meetings with Henry simply magnify this descent into profligacy. …You were the most unspoiled creature in the whole world. Now, I don’t know what has come over you. You talk as if you had no heart, no pity in you. It is all Harry’s influence. I see that (Wilde p. 120) From then on, Dorian progressively mingles with sin; provoking scandals, visiting opium dens and frequenting prostitutes.
Dorian often gazes at the painting with horror, but is unable to divert from this lifestyle, aroused by its wickedness. He is undoubtedly aware of his ethical dissipation and, despite the beautiful items in which he surrounds himself, is appalled by the ugliness of his soul. He knew that he had tarnished himself, filled his mind with corruption, and given horror to his fancy; that he had been an evil influence to others, and had experienced a terrible joy in being so (Wilde p. 241) Dorian’s fear of his predicament being discovered grows as the tableau alters with every misdeed. Although it is hidden from prying eyes, the bareness of his soul is ever-present in his mind. His hot-tempered murder of Basil not only signifies the peak of his immoral demeanour, but his obliteration of moral barriers. His iniquitous act throws him in a state of guilt-ridden paranoia. He is world-weary and borne down by the weight of this infamy.
Wilde’s protagonist was not a villainous nor unprincipled man, simply pliable and somewhat narcissist. Under Lord Henry’s overwhelming influence and the portrait’s enticing protection, he succumbs to a world free of restrictions, tempted by self-gratification. When breaking apart from the moral confines that establish order, Dorian is thrust into a chaotic freedom. Without the ubiquitous prison that symbolises morality, anarchy and evilness reign, destroying the goodness in one’s nature. When he strikes the diabolical picture, beleaguered by remorse and maddened by regret, he wishes to purge his soul and reacquire the proper values that once governed his life. Therefore, by destroying the wantonness that marred his spirit and the guilt that plagued his conscience, he kills himself.
Lord Henry is an extremely patronizing and cynical character. His actions are not as overtly sinful as Dorian’s, since he is not shielded from their repercussions. Although preaching hedonism, he never acts on his philosophies, remaining within the boundaries of what society deems tolerable. He thus has little knowledge of the pragmatic effects induced by his philosophy. He is portrayed as a coward, utilising Dorian to make flesh of his theories, but not venturing on them himself for fear of ruining his social figure. He is a brilliant intellect, although he has a narrow understanding of human behaviour. For instance, when he asserts: All crime is vulgar, just as all vulgarity is crime. It is not in you, Dorian to commit a murder… (Wilde p. 234), he is entirely oblivious to Dorian’s tragedy.
While most of humanity is constrained to moral hindrances, there are those who drift away from these ideals, and become the source of misdemeanours2E Although morality and ethics are restraining concepts, they shelter the individual and thus, mankind. Without them, there could only be degradation and self-destruction, as illustrated by Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray. As Mahatma Gandhi once said: The human voice can never reach the distance that is covered by the still small voice of conscience. One may enjoy life and have no fear from death if he obeys his scruples.
Tennessee Williams A Streetcar Named Desire formulates a medium to reflect upon the morbid aspects of humanity and the result of these societal downfalls. Stanley Kowalski emerges from an impoverished rural setting in New Orleans as the epitome of flagrant barbarity. His speech is coarsely uneducated and his actions display instinctive crudeness. He adheres to mankind’s most primitive rule and basic code: to hunt or be hunted. His household symbolizes his territory and anyone who menaces this tenure should be eliminated. The metaphorical episode in which he casually tosses to Stella, his wife, a bundle of bloody meat emphasises his ape-like qualities. He has little notion of courteousness, which understandably repulse his pampered sister-in-law, Blanche.
The image of a delicate flower amongst a mound of litter is comparable to Blanche Dubois arrival at the Kowalski household. Her expression is of shocked disbelief. Her appearance is incongruous to this setting (Williams p. 15). She appears inherently refined and somewhat ostentatious, having seemingly never witnessed indignity. However, her false decorum is a rather deliberate effort to save herself from misery. Blanche exists in a self-fabricated universe in which she blinds herself from reality’s bleakness. Her haughty manners contrast with Stanley’s uncouth behaviour and clash from their first encounter.
Stanley imposes his animalistic vigour upon Blanche since he feels threatened by her presence. He despises her aristocratic ways, her diminutive expressions concerning his origin and her dallying about with his friend Mitch. His hatred of Blanche is intensified by her unflattering dialogue with Stella. He acts like an animal, has an animal’s habits! Eats like one, moves like one, talks like one! There’s even something – sub-human – something not quite to the stage of humanity yet! (Williams p. 72). This culmination of anger is manifested in his enquiry of her promiscuous past and in his spiteful birthday gift. He relentlessly thwarts her relationship with Mitch, sabotaging her illusions of rescue. In his vile quest to bring Blanche’s ruin, he brutally exposes her to the harshness of her position.
Stanley’s final effort in tarnishing Blanche’s image is animated by chauvinism. Although his past attempts were strictly psychological blows, he now wishes to exert physical power upon her. In Blanche’s state of vulnerability, he rapes her, devastating the remainder of her sanity. His degenerate character, first insinuated after hitting his pregnant wife, is given full evidence following this acrimonious sin. The concluding scene consists of Blanche being ostracised to an asylum and the depiction of Stanley as the dedicated husband, soothing his wife as she embraces their newborn child. The fallaciousness of this image, given what we have learned throughout the play, paradoxically brings into perspective society’s erroneous conception of right and wrong.
The settings of The Picture of Dorian Gray and of A Streetcar Named Desire differ immensely. Dorian is immersed in a tumultuous social environment, caught in the intricate web of social demeanour. Stanley, on the other hand, resides in a modest yet impecunious milieu. In Wilde’s work, the innocent is poisoned, succumbing to immoral growth and subsiding into internal deterioration. In Williams play, remorseless animosity is the dominating asset, as modern man’s conduct is banished. Although these events take place at nearly a century’s interval, one remaining constant is observed : the consequences on the self and on others resulting from the dismissal of morals.
Dorian and Stanley are above all human, and as every human, are subjected to the similar dilemma: to remain within the borders of moral beliefs, or to venture across into immoral conditions. The laws of ethics impose restrictions and greatly limit humankind’s actions, but allow the world’s proper functioning. Both characters break free from this psychological incarceration and therefore, represent the dark side of human nature.
It is critical that we, as a community, comprehend the necessity to abide by the restraining order of morals. Only then will violence and havoc cease to exist. Is it not in our power to differentiate the good from the bad? This question lies not underneath a compulsory set of rules, but rather within the depths of our conscience. Wilde and Williams have magnified, through their enlightening characters, the step between morality and immorality. In the end, it is in our hands to decide on which to stand.
Linked Imagery in ‘Dracula’ and ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’
Throughout the Gothic novel Dracula, Stoker uses symbology and imagery to reveal social anxieties and fears of the late Victorian era, for example the use of animalistic description and blood. Wilde, in his own Gothic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray uses imagery to explore the nature of man, especially in relation to sin, pleasure, and influence. These differing uses of somewhat similar devices show how sharply these two novels diverge. While Stoker focuses mainly on the social fears of the time, such as the degradation of man into beast, Wilde intensively explores the psyches of his troubled characters.
One of the dominant themes within Dracula is duality, a fear of the double or doppleganger. In Dracula there is a struggle in defining the blurred lines between man and animal, a struggle conveyed through the physical appearance of Count Dracula himself. The character’s introduction is fraught with animal-like descriptions. He is described to have “moved impulsively”, acting on instinct as an animal would as opposed to conforming to morals that dominated 19th century Britain. The count’s hair curls in its “own profusion’, he has “peculiarly sharp white teeth”, and his ears are “extremely pointed”, like those of a wolf. It is evident that Dracula is an example of the liminal: he is right on the threshold of devolution from man into beast. This hints at the Victorian fear and belief that just as man could evolve (in light of Darwin’s then recently released theories) man could also devolve. Whereas Stoker employs the Gothic motif of the double to divide man and beast, Wilde uses the double to divide body and soul. The most obvious example within the novel is the portrait that Basil has painted, and what it is symbolic of. As Dorian wishes, the painting grows old and records the ill doings of the boy, and he, in turn, receives eternal youth and beauty, thus dividing the body and soul. Dorian can then indulge in the pleasure of his sins and live out his newly found hedonistic lifestyle whilst keeping his bod;, consequently, the portrait alters and begins to show signs of “cruelty”. This is partly to do with the Victorian ideal of keeping up appearances, that it is better to look good rather than to actually be good. It observed that despite Dorian’s vile character, his immediate influence over others because of his physical beauty is still great. Perhaps Wilde’s use of the double reveals the impracticality of his own homosexual lifestyle, the fact that he would need to hide his lifestyle and repress homosexual tendencies in order to keep up public appearances.
Another prominent, related theme within both novels is that of seduction. Within The Picture of Dorian Gray, imagery of music or musical instruments is used. When Dorian meets Henry for the first time he’s described to have a “low, musical voice”. Sybil is also described as lulling her audience and making them as “responsive as a violin”: she had “long drawn music” in her voice. Wilde frequently uses imagery of music in association with seduction, particularly in voices, as a literary allusion to Greek mythology, in particular the Sirens which feature in Homer’s Odyssey. (Sirens were creatures which enticed sailors to their destruction with their irresistibly beautiful singing.) In the former case, Henry is able to seduce Dorian with his influence, which is the irresistible “singing” that ultimately leads to Dorian’s destruction. Stoker also makes use of musical imagery, for example during Jonathan’s seduction by the Count’s brides. They have “such a silvery, musical laugh”: an irresistible vibrato in their voice seduces Jonathan and leads him to wait in anticipation of what’s to come (again, an allusion to the Odyssey).
Wilde also offers up the symbology and imagery of flowers of many kinds, all of which carry different sentiments and illustrate different meanings. First, in the beginning of the novel, Lord Henry “plucked a pink-petalled daisy…” and “…pulling the daisy to bits”, disposed of the flower. This imagery of the destruction of the flower relates to the theme of influence; specifically, it illustrates the effect of Henry’s influence on the premature Dorian, represented as the daisy. The “pink” colour of the daisy perhaps makes Dorian somewhat more effeminate than the other two men, potentially adding to his natural beauty which could be likened to that of a flower. The narrative also conveys a sense of carelessness on Henry’s part, unaware of the damaging effects of his influence on the young, impressionable Dorian. The flowers within the novel are used frequently in association with Sybil Vane. The “petals of her lips” are mentioned along with her description of a “pale rose”. The “petals of her lips” suggest a delicacy to her character, a fragility; the description of “pale rose” appears, converting innocence, impressionability and purity. These meanings could foreshadow that Dorian will have a damaging impact on Sybil, just as Henry had a damaging impact on Dorian. The lips could also bring connotations of strong sexual desire, a love based purely on lust, and to a certain degree, Dorian’s narcissistic vanity. Furthermore, the flowers in the novel carry specific symbolic meaning relevant to their positioning. In chapter seven, when Dorian has disposed of Sybil carelessly (much like the Daisy that Henry listlessly tore apart) and is walking through London, many images of flowers appear on his walk, helping the reader interpret what Dorian’s emotions are in relation to the confrontation with Sybil. “Huge carts filled with nodding lilies” rumble down the street, “lilies” being symbolic of hatred in some cases. Also, there are boys carrying crates of “striped tulips” which convey love. And finally, the boys are carrying “yellow and red roses” as well, the former carrying meaning of a broken heart and apology.
Other symbols relate to the events of Wilde and Stoker’s era. During the nineteenth century, medical science was making progress, perhaps one of the most important developments during that time. The scientists invented a new science based on blood which was, according to them, connected to racial and sexual issues. For the Victorians, an exchange of blood was symbolic of an exchange of seminal fluid, making blood highly sexualized. Indeed, Stoker uses blood as imagery for sexual encounters and loss of innocence and virginity. In chapter seven, when Lucy is first bitten by the Count, Mina arrives to find that “on the band of her nightdress was a drop of blood”. We know that the exchange of blood is a sexual act, and the drop of blood on the “white” nightdress is symbolic of a deflowering of the demure Lucy, a loss of her virginity. Following this, Lucy continues to fall very ill and once again blood is symbolically important, this time in the form of several transfusions. Van Helsing states that she will “die for sheer want of blood”: with the connotations of blood already explained, this conveys a certain sexual appetite, which will quickly be quenched with continuous transfusions from three men. In effect, Lucy is quenching a sexual hunger by having bodily transactions of blood and thus having sexual relations with many men. This provokes the Victorian fear of female sexuality, which contradicts the widely accepted belief that women were meant to be passive during intercourse and not enjoy sexual pleasure of any kind.
One final symbol that both Gothic novels use is that of the book in relation to the theme of forbidden knowledge. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Henry gives Dorian a mysterious “yellow book” to read, undoubtedly linked to his beliefs and ideals in line with new hedonism. The “yellow book” is self-evidently the strange and perverse French novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature (1884), a novel based around French decadence. This yellow book is the symbol of forbidden knowledge for Dorian, containing the theories of new hedonism that will ultimately lead to Dorian’s demise. Much like in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dracula also contains a book of forbidden knowledge. It is the journal kept by Harker (chapters 1-4). Harker gives Mina the book, since he has forgotten all that had happened to him since his brain fever, and asks her to “share [his] ignorance” and not read it but instead keep it safe. In a departure from The Picture of Dorian Gray, the discovery of the knowledge of vampires (when Mina eventually reads the diary) is very beneficial, a means of preventing a downfall. Both of these forms of forbidden knowledge are underpinned by the theories of Sigmund Freud, who argued that once you transgress and gain forbidden knowledge you can’t ever return to the state you were in before that discovery, that you simply can’t forget. This is true in both The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dracula and calls to mind the story of Genesis. After Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they could never return to the purely blissful and ignorant state they were in before, and so neither can the characters from Dracula or Dorian Gray.
Dorian Gray: Wilde’s Ending and Its Moments of Ambiguity
In Chapter 20 of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian is presented to us as a figure torn between reforming and alleviating himself from the sin and corruption he has perpetuated on others, and pursuing his exclamatory yearning for his “unsullied splendour of eternal youth” to return. Above all, the death of Dorian can only be interpreted by asserting his relationship to his portrait; the “fatal picture”, in which Wilde’s diction suggests it serves as a brutal reminder for his deteriorating soul and his true self, or as simply a symbol of a greater societal force on Dorian. Hence, only with this can one judge whether Dorian truly died by murder, suicide or by accident.
At the beginning of the chapter, Wilde uses pathetic fallacy to convey the “lovely night” which could coincide with Dorian’s inherent feeling of contentment and his ego-centricity and narcissism in regards to his relief that he is safe. This, is mirrored in previous parts of the novel, such as after James Vane’s death, where Wilde bathetically recalls how Dorian’s “eyes filled with tears, for he knew he was safe”. The pleasing, opulent aristocratic setting of the “lovely night” echoes the synaesthesia previously used in Lord Henry’s lavishing “apricot-coloured” habitat, does mirror Dorian’s narcissism, but to a greater extent, the setting is oxymoronic against the sense of unease and underlying ennui in Dorian. As influenced by Lord Henry’s Hedonistic aphorisms and the “poisonous“ imagery epitomising the influence of the Yellow Book advocating a “complex, multiform creature”, he seeks to “search for new sensations” (an allusion to Pater’s Rennaissance). However, Wilde’s deliberate repetitious use of the past perfect tense and free indirect discourse in “He had often”, “she had believed” suggests Dorian’s remorse and apathy towards pursuing pleasure. This is seen in his interaction with the girl whom he had “lured to love him” but told her he was “poor” and “wicked” implying how Dorian is on one hand atoning for perhaps a similar situation with Sybil by not corrupting the girl, as the imagery of the “thrush” echoes the “caged song-bird” that Dorian had been responsible for the suicide of. This perhaps underlies Dorian’s guilt and longing to change, further seen in the alliterative aphorism “There was purification in punishment” suggesting how Dorian wishes that each of his sins would’ve resulted in punishment. On the other hand, one could argue that his declare to the girl represents his desperation to start “A new life!”, thus implying Dorian is torn but is more inclined to ignore rather than face the consequences of his actions that will inevitability lead him to his death.
Furthermore, Dorian’s relationship with the portrait is paramount in regards to whether his death is murder, suicide or accident. Jonah Siegel argues, “Dorian’s death is less a sign of moral failure, than an indication of the failure of his historicism.” Indeed, one can argue it is to a greater degree that Dorian’s growing loathing for his portrait to crush it into “silver splinters” represents the failure of his historicism. This arguable externalisation of Dorian’s conscience could mirror the Victorian society’s crushing judgement on Wilde himself, for being a homosexual, and the hypocrisy prevalent in the 19th century that built itself on a façade of moral rectitude and piety with the “silver splinters” acting as the foundation of its vice, corruption and poverty. The sibilant image here could symbolise how Dorian fails to realise that he can never go back to how he was, and the “silver splinters” can never be rebuilt. However, I think Dorian’s death is completely a sign of moral failure. His stabbing of the portrait was never meant to act as a divine retribution for his crimes, as he never knows that in doing what he does, it will destroy him. Thus, Dorian’s death is a sign of moral failure, as he dies through trying to save himself, implying his narcissism that essentially led to the forming of his Faustian pact with his portrait, led him to his inexorable death.
It can be argued that Dorian’s death is caused by Dorian’s disjunction between his inner and outer lives, and to what extent Dorian truly died or not. Andrew Smith exclaims, “Dorian’s death represents the inability to be authentic…and the failure to be artificial”. On one hand, Dorian fails to be “authentic” in the sense that, if the code of the vicarious flaneur like Lord Henry celebrates individualism (declaratively encapsulated in “the aim of live is self-development”), Dorian falters because he fails to establish and live by his own moral code. Furthermore, it can be seen that Dorian fails to be artificial, as he ceases to represent Art, remaining young and beautiful whilst his painting exhibits his corruption. However, I disagree to an extent with Smith’s paradoxical criticism. In ‘The Decay of Lying’, Wilde stated, “Life imitates Art…life in fact tis the mirror, and Art the reality”. Therefore, even though Dorian’s sin accrued in the portrait is not displayed through his appearance, such as Basil’s death and Sybil’s suicide, it remains exhibited through the portrait as the reality, and Dorian’s decisions and actions mirror this. This idea of Art acting as the reality mirroring life, was seen in Walter Sickett’s paintings conveying the cruelty of life as beauty, seen in his portrait allegedly identifying Jack the Ripper.
Finally, it is disputable whether in Chapter 20, Dorian actually dies. It can be argued that when Dorian exclaims: “His beauty had been to him but a mask”, the caveat “to him” suggesting an uncertainty, reiterating his torn nature at this portrait. It can be argued thereby the original Dorian without a mask was before he met Lord Henry and fell under his influence, encapsulated in the asyndetic “poisonous, fascinating, delightful theories” which is replete with oxymorons. Therefore in a sense Dorian’s beauty could act as a mask for his already dying soul, therefore he was never really himself when he died, merely playing just an aping of Lord Henry’s, “an echo of someone else’s music”. In contrast, Wilde himself stated, “Give a man a mask, and he’ll tell the truth” implying Dorian’s beauty was the truth and was reality, so it was his true self that died.