The Picture of Dorian Gray
Representations of the Double Life in The Picture of Dorian Grey.
‘Those who go below the surface do so at their own peril’. If the aesthetic exterior of a person is the ‘surface’, it is assumed that below this surface is sensibility and emotion. Wilde warns against probing too deeply, or at all, the conscience; the threat that you cannot experience pleasure to the same intensity once moral consequence has been considered haunts the novel. The phrase ‘terrible pleasure’ is thus both antithetical and associated. Dorian is only able to lead a life of ‘pleasure’ through remaining blind to his ‘terrible’ sacrifice of others; pleasure is almost intensified with the knowledge that it was born of another’s suffering. Yet, the mythic quality dictates that this separation of morality and unheeded pleasure is unsustainable and, as fresh paint does, the consequences of sin begin to seep to the suppressed conscience. It is to a self-afflicted ‘peril’ when Dorian submerges, albeit temporarily, ‘below the surface’ and realises he cannot live a life soulless. Once he has submerged in his conscience, he can no longer reach this perfect surface, and inevitably drowns.
To avoid degeneration is to live a life based on balance of two elements. The very phrase ‘double life’ is associated with the Gothic doppelganger, a balance achieved through each double being human, or human-like form. Wilde complicates this by choosing an inanimate object as the doppelganger, presenting an imbalance between the two and three dimensional; Dorian exists in a reality whereas the picture, as art, can only ever be a representation of life. As human and painting are studied simultaneously as if both were art, the two doppelgangers are temporarily two-dimensional: looking now at the evil and aging face on the canvas, and now at the fair young face that laughed back at him from the polished glass (Wilde, p.117). Despite the third person narration, this perspective is temporarily from the mirror’s reflection. The description given then transforms from a detached account to a narrative with altered perception; Dorian’s mirror image is not arguably not a truthful reflection, but a constructed image of how he perceives himself. The reader must also be subjected to this impaired vision that disfigures truth, viewing the narration through a ‘thin blue [wreath] of smoke’ (Wilde, p.6). A further layer of doubling is suggested in the reflection, another two-dimensional version of Dorian that cannot physically commit to any action but will witness the ensuing inescapable ‘terror’ as an audience at the theatre would. Halberstam comments that ‘art serves to separate Dorian from his hideous other spatially’, demanding a focus on ‘spatially’. Morality lacks physical substance, and is instead part of the soul. Yet the painting acts as a physical representation of the effects of sin on Dorian’s soul, which consequently allows for this constant reprieve of morality. In almost anthropomorphising the painting, it is brought to a half life; capable of mimicking the bodily, but biologically there remains a lack of cognitive thought. As a ‘fair young face’, a beautifully aesthetic exterior is also what Dorian strives for, aligning himself more with the painting than a wholly human character. He therefore perceives this state of imbalance between ‘surface’ and substance as the perfect state, with the bodily form of one double and the moral blindness of the other. It death remains almost an inevitable act of nature, as balance needs to be restored.
In living a double life, secrecy is invariably a necessity for each life to separately function as society expects. A female naivety is perhaps implied in Sibyl Vane, the innocent actress, as she exposes her entire self theatrically to audiences routinely. As with many characters in Wilde’s novel, the ‘double life’ splits the character in to the original, arguably ‘true’ character and the double, a representation or imitation. In Dorian choosing what is assumed to be the secondary ‘double’, love is both aestheticised and cheapened; he desires the characters she plays, the performative layer of her identity: ‘I left her in the forest of Arden, I shall find her in an orchard in Verona’ (Wilde, p.71). The action of ‘[leaving] her’ not only foreshadows inevitable abandonment, but suggests how Dorian imagines Sibyl in a world of Shakespearean romance. In referencing Arcadian spaces –the ‘forest’ and orchard’ –Wilde constructs a pseudo-romance with a time limit; an arcadia is in harmony with nature, whereas Dorian’s love lacks authenticity and is unworthy of this literary elevation. In refusing to disentangle a constructed, imagined vision of her from reality, Dorian loves only, to whatever extent he emotionally can, what Sibyl outwardly constructs. Seemingly, Sibyl as a character lacks the simplest of emotional depth to have enough substance to split her identity in two. It is perhaps the exact effect Wilde strives for; the narrative does follow Sibyl beyond the theatre, but still only notes her virtuous beauty and theatrical mannerisms. Therefore, she appears to us exactly as she does to Dorian. However, Sibyl’s doubling is perhaps not as obvious as Dorian’s, which occurs physically. She is split instead by Dorian’s perception, with the two versions of her occupying reality or his imagination. Perhaps the act of introducing Basil and Harry, who encourage a compulsion with beauty, to his imaginative landscape also introduces a sense of reality. This sudden interjection of reality and the transition from Sibyl’s ethereal double, to the ‘charming’ yet ‘absurdly artificial’ (Wilde, p.77) rejects the reliability Dorian seeks in the constancy of ornamental beauty. The ‘terrible’ in Sibyl’s ‘double life’ thus lies in her tragic blindness: she is unaware that her secondary identity, the double life, is a construction, and she need not this substance of emotion to fulfil her predominantly decorative.
Max Nordau’s Degeneration argues there is a fundamental need for boundaries biologically, and socially. In ‘unchaining the beast of man’ and ‘trampling under foot […] all barriers which enclose brutal greed […] and lust of pleasure’, society becomes an anarchy of base, animalistic tendencies that are usually supressed by inflicted boundaries. Dorian, unbeknown to consequence, unchains the beast within himself through declaring himself immune to moral consequence. After one set of boundaries is torn down, a different set of physical boundaries is desperately installed in an attempt to maintain an ordered control. This is attempted through the gothic motif of the locked door. Yet, as the old school room seems to act as the heart to his home, the painting acts as the central organ to Dorian’s body. Outside the room, Dorian is able to temporarily claim a physical, mental and moral freedom. Inside the room, this ‘double life’ reduces again to one, and he becomes one with the painting. When Dorian kills Basil Hallward, the blood that appears on the painting parallels the physical, then metaphorical, blood on Dorian’s hands also as he ‘dug the knife into the great vein that is behind the ear, crushing the man’s head down on the table’ (Wilde, p.144). The biological specification of the ‘great vein’ anaesthetizes the sin through presenting the act as a surgeon’s work, with a controlled outcome, as opposed to manslaughter, a repercussion of uncontrolled, disorderly emotion. Desensitisation occurs further through stripping Basil of his name, reducing his identity to a characterless ‘man’. A name triggers an association and emotional response, so in implicating anonymity, Dorian refuses to even realise the situation to himself. This denial of emotive capability aligns Dorian with the picture as he refuses to acknowledge a conscience, presenting himself as a two dimensional canvas that is affected only physically. The language of the entire passage continues to emphasise this, as it remains observationally specific in noticing details of environment, but emotionally vague. From this chapter onwards, Dorian’s attempted double life becomes harder to maintain. Physically, the painting remains in the school room, but mentally it begins to haunt Dorian’s thoughts to the point of hysterical paranoia, a relentless burden that weighs on what soul he has left. Maintaining boundaries, as Nordau suggests is imperative to life, is therefore ultimately unrealistic. The ‘beast’ within man needs only to have its chains loosened slightly, in order to disregard boundaries completely.
There can be no argument that Dorian, as the protagonist, leads a double life. What is arguable is identifying the point where his soul splits. Some may assert that this splitting occurs through action, when Dorian inadvertently causes Sibyl’s death, or begins his ungoverned sinning. It instead occurs in thought, and most importantly influence: as soon as he becomes ‘dimly conscious that entirely fresh influences were at work within him’ (Wilde, p.21), he is no longer his own original. Whilst he may not exercise fully his double life at this point, in thought he has been split in imitation of Harry. Wilde splits Dorian in so many directions–morally, physically, mentally, and spiritually –that a true ‘original’ version only seems to exist for an alarmingly small number of pages.
Halberstam, J., in The Modern Gothic and Literary doubles: Stevenson, Wilde and Wells, by Linda Dryden (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., 2003)
Nordau, M., Degeneration (Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1993)
Wilde, O., ‘Preface’ in The Picture of Dorian Gray, (Surrey: Alma Classics Ltd, 2008)
A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words: The Role of Art in The Picture of Dorian Gray
Throughout history, art has played a major role in portraying the structure of society and the different roles people play in it. In Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, art seems to dictate the life of young Dorian Gray to the point of moral insanity, and eventually death. In the preface of the novel, though, Wilde states that “All art is quite useless.” This statement is refuted as the novel progresses, as it becomes clear that art indeed does have the ability to control one’s actions and define one’s overall personal identity. Because of the effect the portrait of Dorian Gray has on its subject matter, it is revealed that art certainly plays an important role in the life of its spectators. There are several statements made by characters throughout the novel that seem to refute claims made in the preface of the novel. One such statement is made in chapter seven, as Dorian contemplates the relationship between his actual life and the life portrayed by the portrait: “But the picture? What was he to say of that? It held the secret of his life, and told his story. It had taught him to love his own beauty. Would it teach him to loathe his own soul? Would he ever look at it again?” (99). Through this psychological revelation, it becomes clear that Dorian is being strangely affected by Basil’s painting. By asserting that the portrait “held the secret of his life,” the reader is lead to believe that the portrait, and not Dorian himself, is the one in control of his actions. Because the portrait does show the consequences of Dorian’s everyday wrongdoings, one could assume that his soul is connected to the painting, as he wished when he stated in chapter two, “If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture were 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!” (30). With these vain words, Dorian becomes connected to the painting on a level that is irreversible and foolish. Why, if art is supposed to be useless, would a young man of such high stature feel the need to essentially bargain away his soul for the sake of remaining like the artistic portrayal of himself? The painting becomes a direct influence on Dorian’s actions, and plays a major part in the outcome of his life. Another example that seems to refute this argument is the emphasis placed on several different art forms throughout the novel by Henry and others. Several mediums, from literature to theater, play a role in influencing Dorian. Dorian finds and begins reading the so-called “yellow book,” which seems to influence him in a strange way: “After a few minutes he became absorbed. It was the strangest book that he had ever read” (134). We learn that the book has a profound effect on Dorian, as chapter eleven opens with the statement, “For years, Dorian Gray could not free himself from the influence of this book. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he never sought to free himself from it” (137). Whatever information this book contains affects Dorian in a way that he has never been affected before, and he seems to be intrigued on a level unnatural for something of this nature. Another influential artistic medium that affects Dorian is the theater. As he watches Sybil Vane perform in the role of Juliet, he is initially mesmerized by her. He falls in love with Sybil, not for the girl she really is, but because of the way she portrays her roles. In this respect, it is safe to say that Dorian loves art, rather than loving any other person. Love is a strong emotion; to say that one is not affected by love, even by the love of an art form, would be foolish. As it becomes easy to see in The Picture of Dorian Gray, art can play a major role in how one lives out his daily life. Whether it’s directly through a self-portrait of an individual, the message one gets from a work of literature, or the feeling one gains from seeing a performance, art can make or break the sanity and emotional state of an individual. As the old saying goes, “A picture’s worth a thousand words;” however, one’s life is far more valuable. The decisions one makes should be based on his or her own feelings, not a work of art.
The Art of Immorality: Character Fate and Morality in Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray
Murder, sex, scandal, and drug abuse-all of these sins of the main character thread together to shape Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, a dark tale of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth while his portrait bears the scars of his crimes. However, before Wilde’s readers plunge into this dark immorality, they encounter the novel’s preface, where Wilde claims that “all art is quite useless” and “there is no such thing as an immoral or a moral book” (Wilde 3-4). These statements support Wilde’s position as a key player in the Aesthetic Movement, advocating “art for art’s sake.” They also demonstrate his position that morality simply has no place in art. Yet despite all of this, many critics have attempted to impose a moral on this novel. In the following paper I will examine both the novel and the arguments of those critics to determine whether or not Wilde presents his readers with a lesson in this particular piece of art. There is little argument among contemporary critics that The Picture of Dorian Gray is truly a literary masterpiece. A 1990 review of the novel notes that “despite the dark theme, it gives us the peculiarly Wildean brand of flashing wit and paradox, and finely wrought descriptions of color, sound, and even scent” (Picture 1). In a few descriptive words, Wilde manages to draw the reader into the sense he is attempting to convey, allowing the reader vicarious experience through his descriptions. He also presents a constant flow of wit and paradox through the character of Lord Henry, whose statements include “a great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures” and “a man can be happy with any woman, as long as he does not love her” (Wilde 48, 139). Wilde combines his wit and description with a suspenseful plot that manages to keep readers intrigued as he reveals each character’s fate. Together these elements form a work of art, but the question is whether there is more to be found in the novel than art alone, whether or not a moral is also present. The majority of critics attempting to claim The Picture of Dorian Gray as a moral book use its conclusion to support their argument. In Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Morley claims “a strict, underlying morality” in the text based on the fact that “after his years of sinister and voluptuous living, Dorian is after all left on the ground, dead, a figure of senile decay, while the portrait reverts to its original beauty” (72). Even early reviews claiming the book as immoral note the Wilde made a “desperate effort to vamp up a ‘moral’ for the book at the end” (Mason 65). While it is true that Dorian dies at the end of the novel, we must closely examine the two parts of this argument in order to determine whether or not his death provides the reader with a moral. The first deals directly with the nature of Dorian’s character. The latter reviewer supports the presence of a moral on the basis that Dorian’s death is appropriate for a character he describes as “cool, calculating, [and] conscienceless” (69). To have no conscience is not to feel guilt or remorse for one’s actions; however, Dorian frequently feels both. We first witness Dorian’s guilt when he notices the painting’s initial change and becomes aware of his first misdeed, the ending of his engagement with Sibyl Vane. The very thought that he may have actually been cruel to her displeases him immensely (Wilde 73). Guilt continues to plague Dorian throughout the novel, showing that he is not a character entirely lacking a conscience. We see him in tears at several points in the plot showing that his sin does deeply and emotionally affect him. As a result of his most heinous crime, the murder of his friend Basil, Dorian looses his appetite and is left “crying as one whose heart will break” (136, 153). Not only does Dorian have a conscience because he feels guilt, his nature is also not cold because his crimes and guilt affect him so deeply. Wilde not only presents Dorian as a character with a conscience, but also one who is highly impressionable. Wilde wants us to immediately note Dorian’s impressionable character by referring to him as a “lad” and demonstrating how swiftly the words of Lord Henry influence his naÃ¯ve thinking. Within moments of his physical entrance into the plot we see the immense influence that Lord Henry exercises over him, and later we witness how easily his mind is swayed toward fascination with immoral deeds by a single book presented to him by Lord Henry (Wilde 17, 97). Due to this highly impressionable nature and our knowledge that Dorian does in fact have a conscience, it is clear that his behavior does not stem entirely from inward evil but rather from conditioning by his environment. We, therefore, must look at Dorian’s actions and intentions within the novel and their consequences to see if these consequences provide a moral. They do not. It is only when Dorian’s intentions turn towards good that he is outwardly punished. For example, he learns of Sybil’s suicide only after he’s determined to do right by her. In fact it is immediately following the moment that he finishes writing a sincere apology to her that he learns of her death, forever linking the two together in his mind and providing him with his first lesson in the rewards of morality. These lessons continue when at the height of his evil, Dorian finds true pleasure and is exempt from all consequence. For example, fate prevents James Vane from justly killing him twice. Even his final attempt at a good deed, which I will discuss in the next section, follows this pattern, instructing Dorian and the reader that repentance brings unnecessary pain and suffering while wallowing in sin brings only beauty and pleasure. Even though it is clear that Dorian’s nature is not inherently evil, we still cannot ignore the second part of the argument of critics who impose a moral on the ending, the fact that Dorian’s actions-murder, vanity, sexual promiscuity, and drug abuse-were indeed evil and his fate at the end of novel is death. The question is whether this fate truly demonstrates a sense of cosmic justice, and in order to prove that it does not I will examine the events immediately surrounding Dorian’s death as well as his intentions in destroying the portrait. Dorian acknowledges to Lord Henry that “I have done too many dreadful things in my life. I am not going to do any more. I began my good actions yesterday” (Wilde 159-160). It seems that his intentions have finally turned towards good, and yet fate continues teaching its immoral lesson to Dorian when he attempts one further good act towards another woman and finds an unintentional motive in it, discovering that he has lost his chance at true purity. When he reaches this realization, he blames the portrait, recognizing it as the essence of his corruption. He destroys the portrait out of a desire to be set free from this corruption and to finally take action’s consequences upon his own form, and he receives only grotesque death of both body and beauty as a reward for this last good act. Dorian is a character whose first intentions in discovering the painting’s soul were to do good to prevent its further marring, whose environment later conditioned him to accept that only pain could come from repentance, and whose final attempt to reclaim morality harshly reinforced this lesson. His death was not a result of some greater cosmic justice that justly punishes the evil and rewards the noble, but rather an artfully designed plot twist that only served to take one final stab at morality in having Dorian destroy himself with repentance. Although it clearly does not, if the novel did teach that one’s fate is the just result of one’s actions, then this moral should hold true for not only Dorian but the other characters in the novel as well. I will now examine the fates of the secondary characters measured against their actions to prove that there is no just moral in them. One critic claimed that “despite the general critical picture of Lord Henry as dilettante, intellectual lightweight, and effete hedonist, he is actually one of the most philosophical characters in British fiction” and then later claims that Basil had an equal hand in Dorian’s corruption through his flattery (Liebman 299). Still, despite Harry’s philosophy and Basil’s flattery, the “morality” of these two characters is easily contrasted. The former clearly corrupts Dorian and delights in his misdeeds while the latter, his foil in the novel, continually acts as the voice of reason throughout the plot, begging Lord Henry not to corrupt Dorian and begging Dorian to pray for his soul during their last meeting. The fates of these two characters, however, do not seem just given their actions. Basil suffers a death more painful than Dorian’s own, stabbed to death by Dorian as a result of attempting to redeem him. At the same time Lord Henry does not suffer even the slightest inconvenience for corrupting Dorian, and the end of the novel shows him alive and well for all his horrible actions. Another character, James Vane also loses his life while in the midst of a noble action, attempting to fulfill a promise to his deceased sister. Through the fates of both these characters and Dorian, Wilde provides no relationship between actions and consequences, a lesson from which no moral can be derived. Although the outcomes of the characters present no moral for the reader, there remains one strong argument that a moral does exist in the work. This is the fact that the author claims one. In a letter to the editor of the Daily Chronicle, Oscar Wilde claims that “the real moral of the story is that all excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its punishment, and this moral is so far artistically and deliberately suppressed that it does not enunciate its law as a general principle” (345). The existence of a moral, however, does not make the novel itself “moral.” The fact that both excess and renunciation of that excess bring punishment seems to be merely another of Wilde’s famous paradoxes, not a standard that he wishes his reader to live by. Also the only excess that the reader witnesses in the novel is Dorian’s, and Dorian lives in a world of eternal youth, unlimited influence and wealth, and exemption from all consequences for his deeds so long as they are immoral. The conditions of this world do not apply in the readers’ world where even if they were to escape consequence by chance, they would still face the limitations of age and beauty. Despite the impracticality of this “moral,” we must also acknowledge that Wilde added the novel’s preface after the book’s original printing but prior to its publication as a result of critics attempting to declare his book moral or immoral, chastising anyone who attempts to judge a work of art by such a standard. This preface combined with Wilde’s declaring his paradoxical moral as “deliberately suppressed” demonstrates that Wilde intended his reader to take no lesson from this tale, and those readers who carefully follow the plot and take both action and intention into consideration for all characters do not. Anyone who searches long enough and hard enough can find some moral to impose on any work of literature, but this does not necessarily mean that the author intended to place that moral within the text or that it even exists at all. This is the case with The Picture of Dorian Gray. Although critics have attempted to find a moral in the work since its publication, these imposed morals cannot hold up against the text. Wilde had no intentions of teaching the reader a lesson. Instead he wished simply to provide the reader with a truly enjoyable piece of art, and his novel serves to do nothing more than that. Works CitedLiebman, Sheldon W. “Character Design in The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Studies in the Novel. 31.3 (1990): 296-317.Mason, Stuart. Oscar Wilde: Art and Morality. New York: Haskell House, 1971.Morley, Sheridan. Oscar Wilde. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1976. “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Rev. of The Picture of Dorian Gray. by Oscar Wilde. Magill Book Reviews 15 Sept. 1990.Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray: Authoritative Texts, Backgrounds, Reviews and Reactions, Criticism. Lawler, Donald L. (ed.) New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1988.
What Is In a Name?: Close Reading of Dorian Gray and His Fellow Characters
French author Marcel Proust once stated “Words do not change their meanings so drastically in the course of centuries as, in our minds, names do in the course of a year or two.” What this quote means is that while names merely are words, they hold a whole different meaning. Names, just like a person’s face, can hold their entire identity in just a few letters. They evoke feelings of rage, happiness, love, hatred. Simply put, there is a lot of meaning behind one’s name. Because of this, it is not a surprise that many authors put so much thought into the names of their characters–it gives the first impression of the character. The same can be said for Oscar Wilde, author of The Picture of Dorian Gray. In the novel, Dorian Gray makes a deal to remain young and beautiful forever. Instead of his body becoming old, a painting of him becomes more and more grotesque as the young man’s soul becomes corrupted. The novel portrays exactly how much the man’s vanity begins to deform him and the risks that he is willing to take as everything but his appearance begins to change around him. Throughout the piece, Gray makes a number of acquaintances: friends, enemies, and even lovers. For many of these characters, their name is also used as a source of characterization, holding a hidden meaning behind them that directly correlates to their personality or mentality. The characters Dorian Gray and Lord Henry, as well as the Vane family, can be analyzed further by their names.
Dorian Gray is probably the most key character in the novel, thus his name holds a lot of significance. The given name Dorian can be linked to ancient Greek culture. The culture from which the name is derived connects Dorian to Lord Henry. Lord Henry holds high esteem for Greek society, claiming that “the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy” by returning to the Hellenic ideal (23). The Greeks were known for their appreciation of the human form and their focus on aestheticism, thus their olympian-like statues and art. Just like the statue of David or any other sculpture, Gray is described as being a “young Adonis, who looks as if he was made out of ivory and rose-leaves”–something that the Greeks surely would have appreciated (7). As far as the surname of Gray goes, it can be used to characterize Dorian’s mentality and the progression of his personality as he becomes more and more corrupted by Lord Henry and the influences of the world. Simply put, Dorian occupies a “moral gray area” in many aspects. He does not view his actions as particularly right or wrong, no matter how negative they may seem to others. For example, when Gray attacks Hallward and “[digs] the knife into the great vein that is behind the ear… stabbing again and again” he does not see it as demented. but a necessary task (174). The young man does not fully grasp the seriousness of his actions. Had he not murdered Basil in cold blood, as he believes, he surely would have been betrayed and berated by the painter. This justifies his actions in his mind, even when “a distinctly narcissistic attitude emerges, and the incompatibility of morality and unconditional aestheticism becomes all the more apparent” (Duggan). Also, many of the things that Gray does are done with good intentions, yet end up resulting in a negative outcome. In an attempt to change his demented ways, Dorian leaves a young woman that he claims to have been in love with, reasoning that he wants to “leave her as flower-like as [he] had found her” (231). However, are Gray’s righteous attempts really that righteous? Lord Henry sagaciously suggests that the “first good action [Dorian has] done for years, the first little bit of self-sacrifice [he has] ever known, is really a sort of sin” (232). No matter how justified Dorian claims his actions are, they still result in Hetty being conclusively heartbroken. Because of these dead-set ideals, Gray is in a moral middle ground.
Just like Dorian, Lord Henry Wotton’s name also has quite a bit of meaning behind it. Henry is an English name with Germanic roots, translating to “home ruler”. Just like the translation implies, Lord Henry could definitely be characterized as a ruler. Not only is he a literal nobleman, but it can also be argued that his demanding presence also begins to command Gray’s mind as well, due to the fact that “there [is] something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence” (42). As if caught under a spell, Gray becomes completely entranced by Lord Henry’s unique and unusual ideas. It is because of Lord Henry that Gray begins to follow the long, twisting trail of corruption: Lord Henry puts vain ideas in Gray‘s head; Lord Henry introduces Gray to the slums of the city; Lord Henry tries to push Gray to his limits. This mental decay creates inner turmoil within Dorian. It is Lord Henry’s overpowering influence that sparks the dark fire of ideas of vanity and aestheticism within the youth. Wilde describes “ He would seek to dominate him—had already, indeed, half done so. He would make that wonderful spirit his own” (43). If Gray’s mind is the home, then Wotton’s influence is the ruler, building and sculpting it as he sees fit.
Unlike Lord Henry, Sibyl Vane is the image of naiveté and simplicity, just as her name suggests. The forename Sibyl has Greek origins, meaning “prophetess”. Just like a prophetess, Sibyl’s character goes on to predict a number of things in the novel. One way in which Sibyl’s character forecasts the future is the way in which women react to Dorian’s presence. Sibyl becomes obsessed with everything about Gray, despite not even knowing his real man or, regretfully, his real personality. She claims that “he is like what Love himself should be” (69). Like a plague, everything about Dorian begins to consume her, both in body and spirit. Sibyl’s obsession with the man even goes so far on as to ruin her acting career–one of the only things that really captivated Dorian in the first place. Vane goes on to profess that Gray “is more to [her] than all art can ever be” as she blindly throws herself at his feet, only to be utterly destroyed when Gray rejects her (97). However, Sibyl is not the only character that becomes entirely dominated by Gray; she serves as the first piece, the model in what would turn out to be a long line of captivated–and distraught–women, such as Hetty. Similarly, another way in which Sibyl serves as a prophetess is that the relationship between her and Dorian serves as the beginning of a pattern in the way that Dorian’s relationships will turn out. With the relationships, the two characters start off as lovestruck, completely absorbed in one another. It is not a true bond, however, as “Dorian is not attracted to Sibyl’s character of personality, but rather her acting talent and enthralling performances” (Duggan). When Dorian is first with Vane, he goes on to tell Lord Henry “I love her, and I must make her love me” (62). This “honeymoon” period only lasts for a short period, however, as Gray quickly loses interest in Sibyl the minute the minute her magic wears off, tossing her aside like a piece of trash. Following this rejection, Vane quickly takes it to heart by ending her own life. There is a pattern with Gray’s relationship: devotion, disinterest, denial. This was the case with Sibyl Vane and Hetty and many more temporary lovers. Because of these repeating parts, it is no wonder that Dorian’s first lover in the novel is named the prophetess.
While Sibyl’s forename applies primarily to herself, her surname Vane–or vain– appears to apply to her family as a whole. This is especially the case with her mother. Mrs. Vane is a self-loving, egocentric character chiefly concerned with her own well being rather than that of her children. Despite the fact that she is “a faded, tired woman… and looks as if she [has] seen her better days” (61). Mrs. Vane still shows an excessively high opinion of her abilities. Indebted to a local theatre owner, she has relegated both herself and her younger daughter over to the company. An indication of Mrs. Vane’s vanity can be witnessed when she is refusing to turn Sibyl over to Dorian, despite her protests of how ecstatic he makes her, until she learns that “the young man might be rich” and that only then “marriage should be thought of” (69). It is a wonder that the older woman does not seem to pass these traits of sheer melodramaticism and vanity onto her two children.
Names serve as more than just ways to identify a character; they can create a history, a personality, and even a future–all wrapped up into a string of vowels and consonants. Just like appearance and dialogue, a name can serve as an important characterization tool when creating individuals. Many names in The Picture of Dorian Gray do just that: they add a certain level of depth beyond the typical aspects. The roots and meanings behind designations are always fascinating things to look into, as is the case with Dorian Gray. The forename Dorian is of Greek origin and serves to link him with the acclaimed, aesthetically-drawn culture. The surname of Gray is used to represent the moral gray area that he occupies, never quite grasping the severity of his actions. With Lord Henry Wotton, the name Henry translates to “home ruler”, something that applies both to his position as a nobleman as well as how he dominates the space that is Dorian’s mind with his singular ways of thinking. The Vane family creates a wide array of characterization within the novel. With Sibyl Vane, her name translates out to be prophetess, or one who can predict the future. Not only does she serve as the model of how women react around Dorian, but Sibyl also serves as the model of how relationships with Gray will run their course. Sybil’s mother, Mrs. Vane, is characterized by her last name quite literally, indicating her vanity and self-regard when it comes to both the theatre and her two children. Combined with many other elements, the careful thought process of choosing names can aid the reader in analysing characters, a tactic that was employed in the novel. It is obvious that Wilde understands the importance behind such an overlooked idea as each character’s personality and background is carefully sculpted like a piece of clay. It is just as American author Logan Pearsall Smith once wrote: “Our names are labels, plainly printed on the bottled essence of our past behavior”.
The Life of Secrecy
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde writes of a beautiful young man with an ugly secret. While Dorian Gray will forever retain the innocent looks of his youth, his portrait will degenerate with every wrong he commits. Unburdened and unmarked by his corruption, Dorian behaves as he wills, performing numerous unspeakable acts that he must never expose. Throughout the novel, Wilde explores the theme of the power of secrecy, of which Dorian is only one example. In addition to driving Dorian to hideous crimes, secrecy also wields enormous influence over all the major characters. It dictates their relations to each other, is the impetus behind their actions, and even determines their death hour.Secrecy is the foundation of all romantic relationships in the novel. “When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving oneself, and one always ends by deceiving others” (Wilde, 197). Of marriage, Lord Henry states: “the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties” (Wilde, 143). Though Lord Henry’s assertions are always doubtful, it does appear that his wife Victoria knows very little about him. “I always hear Harry’s view from his friends. It is the only way I get to know of them” (Wilde, 190). Dorian’s relationship with Sybil Vane is certainly no exception. Dorian falls in love not with her, but with the characters she transforms into on stage. “Never… is she Sibyl Vane” (Wilde, 200). However, when she reveals her true self to Dorian and acts badly, Dorian is furious with disappointment. “You have killed my love… You have spoiled the romance of my life” (Wilde, 237). It seems that before Sybil reveals her true nature, Dorian can fancy her as he wishes, and believe her to be any tragic heroine of Shakespeare’s devising. However, when she shows herself to be nothing but a naive child, she kills all his possibilities of fantasy. “You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir my curiosity” (Wilde, 236). Dorian dissolves the relationship when there is no longer the fantasy and mystery created by the secrecy of Sybil’s true nature.In addition to romantic relations, secrecy serves as a binding force for all the characters in the novel. Initially, Dorian is accepted among high society because no one knows of his true nature. They believe in his innocent face and think him charming beyond measure, completely oblivious to his secret corruption. However, as rumors circulate of his immoral ways, “these whispered scandals only increased in the eyes of many, his strange and dangerous charm” (Wilde, 299). They are aware that he leads a secret life of crime, but know little of the details. Thus they are even more interested in him because his secrecy gives him a certain allure, a certain aura of mystery.However, the discovery of these secrets marks the end of these relations. For those who only hear rumors of Dorian’s crimes, his secrecy adds a certain charm to his character. However, those who have full knowledge of his corruptions, “those who had been most intimate with him appeared… to shun him” (Wilde, 299). When one of Dorian’s secrets is unveiled, they are forced to face the reality of his character, which is anything but charming. They are no longer drawn to him because they have seen his soul in its nude, wicked form, which leaves no possibility for anything pleasant. Dorian is well aware of the necessity of hiding the details of his secrets, becoming ever so paranoid lest anyone should discover the painting, fearing that once the secret is revealed, he would lose all his friends and relations. “You (Lord Henry) don’t know everything about me. I think that if you did, even you would turn from me” (Wilde, 394).The clearest demonstration of both the attraction and finality of secrecy can be seen in Alan Campbell. As Dorian begins to tell him about Basil’s murder, Alan refuses to hear anymore. “Stop, Gray. I don’t want to know anything further… I entirely decline to be mixed up in your life” (Wilde, 328). This suggests that Alan realizes that knowledge of his secrets would surely draw him to Dorian and intertwine their lives again, just as others are drawn to his mysteriousness. However, he is blackmailed by Dorian into helping him rid the evidence of the murder. The narrative does not give details of this exchange, but it can be assumed that the letter Dorian writes and threatens to send would reveal some secret of Alan’s. However, after he performs the monstrous deed, he shoots himself one night in his laboratory, unable to bear the burden of what has now become both his and Dorian’s secret. Thus, indirectly, his knowledge of Dorian’s secrets, and Dorian’s knowledge of his, not only ends their current relationship but also eliminates any possibility for such in the future.All the major characters of the novel are described in relation to their secrets. For example, Basil is introduced as an artist strangely and secretly drawn to Dorian. Lord Henry is defined by his secret motive to experiment with Dorian. It can therefore be said that these secrets not only characterize, but also take control over the actions of these characters in the novel. Thus it would seem natural that secrecy holds the key to the life of its bearer. The unveiling of one’s secret represents his death. When Dorian threatens to reveal Alan Campbell’s secret, Alan “felt as if his heart was beating itself to death in some empty hollow” (Wilde, 332). He has little choice but to comply with Dorian’s demands because of the threat that is posed to his life. The importance of secrecy now becomes a major factor in his decisions and actions. Similarly, when Basil suggests various ways to absolve Dorian of the corruption that the painting depicts – an attempt to erase Dorian’s secret, Dorian suddenly erupts with “the mad passions of a hunted animal” (Wilde, 319). The comparison to the hunted animal suggests that Basil is a great menace to Dorian’s life. His desire to rid him of his secrets poses a threat to his very existence. Faced with Basil’s threat to his secret and his life, Dorian has no choice but to murder him, again carrying out what secrecy demands of him.Perhaps the best example of the symbol of death as an unveiling of secrecy lies in Dorian’s own death. Hoping to “kill the past” and erase all his secret sins, he stabs the picture (Wilde, 390). However, rather than killing the picture and freeing himself from all the secrets it holds, he instead kills himself, and becomes marked by his own corruption while the picture is absolved. This transformation can be seen as an unveiling of his secret. The depravity of his soul, which has been concealed by the painting for so long, finally shows through his corpse. Dorian Gray’s death coincides with the exposure of his secret criminality.However, even this unveiling of Dorian’s biggest secret can be seen as another way in which the secret is propagating. From beginning to end, the text is a revelation of a series of secrets, but each revelation is replaced by another secret. Dorian’s whole life is an effort to conceal something, but that something is constantly changing. First he covers his involvement in Sybil Vane’s death. Upon discovering the secret of the portrait, he locks it inside the attic. He lies about his bad reputation to Basil, only later to reveal to him his soul. He murders him and tries to erase all evidence of it. The list goes on and on. Even in death, his secrecy continues. Though the corruption of Dorian’s soul will be visible for the world to see, the secret of the portrait, as well as the details of his death, will forever remain a mystery to others. The transformation of the corpse and the portrait creates even more mystery surrounding Dorian Gray. In the end, when Dorian decides to do away with the portrait that holds all his secrets, the secrets seems to wield power over him, and reject the end chosen by their bearer. Even in his death, his secrets seem to propagate.Though Lord Henry is in no way an admirable character, it must be said that he is a very smart one. He is the only character in the novel who understands the workings of secrets. Initially, he manipulates Dorian into opening up to him completely. “You could not have helped telling me, Dorian. All through your life you will tell me everything you do” (Wilde, 197). However, after having achieved this goal, he backs away, and soon becomes oblivious to Dorian’s affairs. When Dorian tells him that he’s murdered Basil, he replies: “you were posing for a character that doesn’t suit you… It is not in you, Dorian, to commit a murder” (Wilde, 379). Lord Henry seems to care little about the details of one’s secrets, but only chooses to probe enough to make life a little more interesting. Unlike Sybil, who reveals too much of her secret too soon, unlike Basil, who digs too deeply, and unlike Alan and Dorian, who refuse to acknowledge secrecy’s perpetual existence, Lord Henry lets secrecy take its own course. Thus he is the only major character in the novel who escapes tragedy.In The Picture of Dorian Gray, secrecy represents a driving force behind many aspects of the novel. Secrecy seems to have a life of its own, and control the relations, actions, as well as the existence, of its bearers. In the opening pages of the novel, Wilde writes that “secrecy seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvelous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it” (Wilde, 143). This certainly seems to hold true throughout the novel. It is secrecy that draws so many to Dorian Gray and heightens his charms. However, as secrets are revealed, people pull away from him because he no longer generates interest or mystery. In addition to being a source of seduction for the characters in the novel, it also functions in the same way towards the readers. Thus secrecy must always regenerate itself, even at the cost of fatality to the characters to maintain readers’ interest.
Elements of a Traditional Gothic Novel in The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, is a classic example of a traditional Gothic novel, despite the fact that it isn’t scary. Gothic literature received its name because many examples of the genre were set during the late-medieval, or Gothic, period. It became popular in England, Germany, and the United States during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (Buzwell). What many people don’t know about Gothic novels is that they are often based off of Romanticism, a validation of strong emotion and imagination. Basically, Gothic novels combine horror and romance, and do so in a psychological way. A Gothic novel is defined as a novel that deals with frightening or supernatural objects. Through this, it becomes visible already that this story will end tragically. Gothic novels tend to take place in gloomy settings such as old buildings (particularly castles or rooms with secret passageways), dungeons, or towers that serve as a background for the mysterious circumstances (Andersson). When Dorian attempts to visit the opium den to get rid of Basil’s body, we can clearly see an example of this. “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 horrible laughter. In others, drunkards brawled and screamed.” (Wilde 128) Another eerie environment from the novel is the secret room in which the yellow book is locked. The room contains old books, mice, faded tapestries, and an odd smell of mildew. Most people would not prefer to be in such a setting because it is often spooky and leads to death.Throughout the story, the most obvious example of a Gothic novel is the use of the devil as a symbol. Lord Henry represents the devil by using his wisdom and the poisonous yellow book to corrupt Dorian, who loses his innocence and later becomes a murderer. An interesting piece of evidence to this is that Henry is often called Harry. This appears to refer to “Old Harry”, another name for the devil (Zakes). “I would give my soul” in exchange for the privilege of staying youthful for the rest of his life (Wilde 19). Unknowingly, Dorian sells his soul to the devil. He eventually realizes that he wants to be normal again, but fails, and receives his punishment: death. As an appeal to the pathos and sympathy of the reader, the female characters often face events that leave them fainting, terrified, screaming, and/or sobbing. A lonely, pensive, and oppressed heroine is often the central figure of the novel, so her sufferings are even more pronounced and the focus of attention (Junger). The women suffer all the more because they are often abandoned, left alone (either on purpose or by accident), and have no protector at times. Dorian is supposed to be Sybil’s “Prince Charming.” (Wilde 46) The connection shown is that Prince Charming saves his damsel in distress, a beautiful young woman who requires a hero to rescue her. Sybil believes that Dorian has rescued her from acting, which she poured her heart and soul into because that was the closest she could get to being in love. Finally, she is free and doesn’t have to act; she actually loves Dorian. On the other hand, Dorian does not love Sybil anymore. He was infatuated with her beautiful acting and when that disappeared, so did Dorian’s love for her. In most Gothic novels, science is used for a bad purpose. One time it is seen is when Dorian blackmails Alan Campbell, a scientist, into getting rid of Basil’s dead body by dissolving it. His equipment is described as “a large mahogany chest of chemicals.” (Wilde 120) The main way that science is used is through Lord Henry, who treats Dorian as the subject of an experiment. “And certainly Dorian Gray was a subject made to his hand, and seemed to promise rich and fruitful results.” (Wilde 43) On top of this, Lord Henry says, “I hope that Dorian will make this girl his wife…. and then suddenly become fascinated by someone else. He would make a wonderful study.” (Wilde 54) We are led to believe that Lord Henry is entertained by Dorian. For this reason, he has befriended him.Lastly, supernatural elements are clearly present in the novel. That would be anything of, relating to, or being above and beyond what is natural (Andersson). Often times, the events are unexplainable. In this case, it is simply impossible for a picture to change by itself, as it is for Dorian to stay youthful forever. Despite the facts, these things somehow happen anyways. Furthermore, Dorian dies and his dead body instantly becomes old, while the picture returns to its original state. All in all, a traditional Gothic novel consists of many elements. These include eerie environments, the devil, a damsel in distress, science used for a bad purpose, and the supernatural. Some people may argue that this novel does not represent a Gothic genre, but all of the important factors are easily visible in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Though this isn’t a very scary story, it can definitely be classified as a traditional Gothic Horror novel.
Obsession, Destruction and Control – A Film vs. Novel Comparison of Whiplash and The Picture of Dorian Gray
Although created in different eras, Oscar Wilde’s 1980 gothic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and Damien Chazelle’s 2014 drama film Whiplash are comparable in the exploration of obsession, destruction and control by the text’s creators. Chazelle and Wild analogously explore the concept of obsessions as they evolve in the minds of the protagonists, corresponding through their utilisation of minor characters yet differing in the nature of the fixations examined. Similarly, both texts incorporate the idea of a manipulative dynamic between two individuals, forming contrasts between the methods of control explored by the authors and the diverse techniques employed to examine how fear can influence the characters. As both authors conclude their texts with the destruction of the protagonist, the ending of Whiplash echoes a core motif where The Picture of Dorian Gray exhibits a metaphoric finale. Furthermore, Wilde’s symbolic portrait and Chazelle’s close ups allow each to emphasise an idea of physical destruction arising out of psychological devolvement.
As characterisation and allusion allows the central characters of Wilde’s novel to explore an obsession with physical beauty, Chazelle’s montages reveal the protagonist of Whiplash developing a dissimilar ambitious fixation on drumming. In The Picture of Dorian Gray the protagonist is immediately distinguished by his appearance first described as “a young man of extraordinary personal beauty”, foreshadowing the importance of Dorian’s physical appearance over his disposition. This idea fuels the character’s obsession with his own beauty and its preservation with Wilde forming an analogy between Dorian and the classical myth of Narcissus who tragically loved his own reflection as “in a boyish mockery of Narcissus, [Dorian] had kissed […] those painted lips” of his portrait. Contrastively, the first short montage witnessed in Whiplash establishes Andrew’s growing obsession, with Chazelle integrating close ups of a “Buddy Rich” photograph and album to express the idolised ambition fuelling the protagonist’s fixation (Fig. 1). Additionally, the succeeding frames in the montage cut between Andrew and a low angle shot tracking in towards a drum set, emulating an atmosphere of worship and power (Fig. 2). Unlike the montages of Whiplash, Wilde manipulates Basil’s character to explore an obsession solely developed from beauty as he declares Dorian’s “me[re] visual presence” suggests “an entirely new manner in art”, equating him to the “face of Antonius [in] Greek sculpture”. In a different manner, a second montage in Whiplash implies how Andrew’s obsession consumes his life by combining shots of aggressive drumming with sequences of Andrew fanatically moving to sleep next to the drums (Fig. 3). With the concept of obsession central to both The Picture of Dorian Gray and Whiplash, Wilde explores a fixation on physical beauty through characterisation and allusions to Greek mythology, while the techniques integrated into Chazelle’s montages convey a different, achievement-orientated infatuation with music.
Minor characters in both Whiplash and The Picture of Dorian Gray are utilised to explore the corresponding concept of obsessive behaviour and its alienating effects. Chazelle stresses the suppressed insanity of Andrew’s fixation by juxtaposing a loud sequence of him drumming in frenzied state with a wide mid-shot of his first date with Nicole- exhibiting a contrasting calm blue-green colour scheme and softly spoken dialogue (Fig. 4). Like Nicole, Sibyl highlights the destructive obsession Dorian has with visual and artistic beauty, as he bases their engagement purely on this infatuation claiming her “mere beauty could fill your eyes with tears”. Thus when Sibyl fails to meet Dorian’s expectations of beauty in her acting, he cruelly rejects her declaring that she “killed [his] love” with Wilde exploiting her consequent suicide to highlight the dangerous effects of Dorian’s narcissistic preoccupation with aesthetics. Similarly, while intimate medium close ups in the first date scene of Whiplash imply a connection between the characters, Nicole’s discussion of her undecided collage major contrasts sharply with Andrew’s tenacious fixation on pursuing perfection in jazz drumming. Consequently, Chazelle cuts to a wide shot accentuating the physical distance between the two characters to signify the philosophical divide between Nicole and Andrew due to his obsessive behaviour, forming the foundation of his later rejection (Fig. 5). Alternatively, Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray becomes a medium through which Wilde expresses the aesthetic theories at the core of his novel that instigate Dorian’s obsession with beauty, as he declares that beauty “is a form of genius” and “the wonder of all wonders” with a “divine right of sovereignty”. Ultimately, Chazelle and Wilde similarly incorporate minor characters within their texts that function as a spotlight to emphasise Andrew and Dorian’s obsession and isolation.
In Whiplash, Fletcher encapsulates the archetype of a tyrannical leader, controlling Andrew with hostility and violence, while the charismatic and alluring Henry of The Picture of Dorian Gray, dissimilarly prefers to entice Dorian with the promise of pleasure and excitement. Fletcher’s vulgar language and malicious insults are crucial to his persona, reflecting his aggressive methodology of manipulation as calling Andrew a “worthless, friendless […] little piece of shit” with warnings like “If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will gut you like a pig”, evidently only made him practice more in the succeeding scenes. In contrast, Wilde employs the novels omniscient third person perspective to portray Henry’s more subtle and passive approach to manipulating Dorian using his “philosophy of pleasure”, as the narrator observes that when Henry “talk[ed] to [Dorian] it was like playing upon an exquisite violin. He answered to every touch and thrill of the bow”. Additionally, Chazelle examines the symbolic significance of Fletcher’s hand as a weapon of control by cinematically conveying its importance with close ups, focal shifts and contrastive harsh foreground lighting (Fig. 6). Specific counter shots in Whiplash emphasise the ephemeral but substantial control a conductor has over his band, and Chazelle infers the power Fletcher gains from this by making his hand synonymous with impending violence (Fig. 7). Like Fletcher’s conducting hand, Henry’s extravagant language and dialogue acts as a weapon drawing Dorian towards corruption. Wilde uses this dialogue to plant the seed of Henry’s influence with the narrator observing how Henry’s “mere words” had “touched some secret chord [in Dorian] that […] he felt was now vibrating and throbbing to curious pulses”. Although Whiplash and The Picture of Dorian Gray correspond in relation to the theme of control, Chazelle highlights Fletcher’s aggressive influence with hostile language and symbolism whereas Wilde characterises Henry as a manipulator with a charming approach through an omniscient narrator.
Both Whiplash and The Picture of Dorian Gray examine how fear can control and influence characters decisions, though where Chazelle takes advantage of the characters physical appearance and composition, Wilde employs symbolism. Fletcher’s appearance in Whiplash is utilised to convey the sense of threat experienced by Andrew, which is essential to understanding his consequent submissive reactions. Chazelle draws the audience’s focus towards Fletcher’s muscular physic with lighting, creating shadows that extenuate the lines and form the aura of power and strength that emanates from his character (Fig. 8). As Chazelle focuses on creating Fletcher’s atmosphere of intimidation, Wilde exploits the symbolism of the “yellow book” to stress Dorian’s fear of mortality as a key provocation for his immoral behaviour. The single difference between the book and Dorian’s life in that the “Parisian” grows and unsightly while Dorian remains young becomes the basis of its symbolism. As Dorian becomes “more and more enamoured” with his own beauty and the fear of losing it, he in turn grows “more interested in the corruption of his own soul”, thus as it is Henry who gave him the book, it is Henry who is exploiting Dorian’s fear of mortality to reinforce his poisonous hedonistic influence. Alternatively, Chazelle emphasises the lack of physical contact but frequent closeness between Andrew and Fletcher as the framing and composition of shots reflects the invasion of the characters’ personal space (Fig. 9). This implies Andrew’s fear predominately stems from the threat of internal violence in the form of disapproval and disappointment rather than in the literal sense, forming the core of Fletcher’s effect as Andrew’s actions reflect his desire to meet expectations. While Chazelle develops Fletcher’s aura of power to emphasise his manipulation of Andrew’s fear, Wilde focuses on how Dorian’s fear of mortality heightened by the symbolic yellow book allows Henry to further control his mind.
Although Chazelle and Wilde ultimately convey the either literal or figurative destruction of their protagonists, Whiplash exhibits an ending that parallels a core motif where Wilde infers metaphoric ideas to convey an underlying morale. The final scenes of Whiplash mirror the recurring motif of the “Charlie Parker” anecdote, in which a jazz drummer throws a cymbal at the famous saxophonist’s head- who a year later performs “the best solo” of his career. The reiteration of this story foreshadows Andrew’s final confrontation with Fletcher, when he ferociously drums his best performance despite the psychosomatic abuse he has suffered. Chazelle amplifies the intensity of Andrew’s psychological destruction by combining the powerful rhythmic soundtrack with progressively shorter shots that build up to a final counter close up of Fletcher’s fleeting expression of approval and Andrews feeble smile in response (Fig. 10). The audience is positioned to accept Andrew’s solo as living proof of Fletcher’s sadistic teaching method, as he finally attains his ideal “Charlie Parker”. However, this comes at the cost of destroying the humanity and spirit of Andrew who, ironically, by proving the effectiveness of Fletcher’s abuse, will forever be prisoner to his influence. Like Whiplash, The Picture of Dorian Gray ends with the ironic destruction of the protagonist as, in an effort to start a “new life” and be “good”, Dorian seeks to destroy the only symbol of his conscience- the portrait- and face the immorality of his soul. Yet as Dorian is essentially the essence of this immorality he seeks to destroy, by metaphorically killing the painting, he kills himself and bears the physical consequences of his sin. In depicting death as Dorian’s only salvation, Wilde reinforces the idea of “purification in punishment” and thus criticizes the hedonistic lifestyle. As Wilde highlights Dorian’s physical destruction with a metaphoric ending, Chazelle intensifies the final sequence in Whiplash to depict the destruction of Andrew’s spirit and psyche as he, unlike Dorian who is liberated from his sins in death, will never to be free from Fletcher’s control.
Chazelle and Wilde similarly emphasise the direct physical destruction from the parallel psychological devolvement of their protagonists, however Whiplash depicts this concept through close ups and hand-held shots while The Picture of Dorian Gray explores the idea with a portrait motif. The physical consequences of a damaged psyche in Whiplash is established when Chazelle juxtaposes a shot of Andrew’s fast paced erratic drumming, with a slow motion close up of his bloody fist entering ice. As the blood dramatically disperses in the water, the colour alludes to the manifestation of psychological pain in the characters actions and condition, much like the “scarlet” blood that “gleamed, wet and glistening” on the hands of Dorian’s portrait after he murdered Basil (Fig. 11). Contrary to the ambiguity of Chazelle’s cinematic techniques, the metaphoric concept of Dorian’s portrait is explicitly conveyed as Wilde writes “the picture […] would be to [Dorian] the visible emblem of conscience”. Thus, as Dorian pursues a decadent and immoral lifestyle, the portrait bears the physical traces of his “sins”, transcending its two-dimensional properties to become a character in itself; a physical medium through which Wilde conveys Dorian’s psychological devolvement. In contrast to Wilde’s literary symbolism, Chazelle’s use of erratic hand-held shots positions the audience to experience the hysterical and disoriented state of Andrew’s psyche, combined with close ups of literal allusions to suffering like blood and sweat that connect Andrew’s destroyed state of mind with his physical pain. Where Wilde utilises the symbolic significance of the portrait to stress the physical effects of Dorian’s deteriorating mentality, Chazelle implicitly makes the same connection between the destruction of Andrew’s mind and body with particular close ups and hand-held shots.
With parallel plots, Whiplash and The Picture of Dorian Gray delve into the psychology of obsessive behaviour. Though Chazelle’s montages illustrating a fanaticism for drumming diverge from Wilde’s allusions to classical mythology and dissonant infatuation with beauty, both writers exploit minor characters to assert the isolating effects of this fervent behaviour. In the same manner, the notion of controlling dynamics between characters and the manipulation of fear is at the core of both texts. Wild emphasises Fletcher’s aggressive influence and aura of power with composition and costume, which starkly contrast Henry’s charming manipulation inferred by the narrator and highlighted by Wilde with symbolism. Chazelle and Wilde distinctively develop a connection between physical and psychological damage that ultimately erupts into the either literal or figurative destruction of the protagonist in the denouement of both narratives. Consequently, while the context of Whiplash and The Picture of Dorian Gray significantly differ, the interconnected elements of obsession, destruction and control extend beyond this difference forming a timeless introspective into the darker side of human nature.
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.
Murder and Mental Breakdown in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and The Picture of Dorian Gray
Dr. James Knoll, a forensic psychiatrist, says, “The paranoia exists on a spectrum of severity. … Many perpetrators are in the middle, gray zone where psychiatrists will disagree about the relative contributions of moral failure versus mental affliction.” Dr. Knoll mentions that, in murderers, the line that defines their motives tends to be rather grey. Both Dorian Gray of the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” harbor serious psychological, eventually leading them to murder; the motives behind their actions have similar roots: insanity. Dorian Gray and the Tell-Tale Heart narrator both have paranoia and progressively become mentally worse over time, showing the grey area of moral versus mental issues.
The Picture of Dorian Gray paints a very vivid succession of events that shows a young man’s complete transformation from innocence to corruption. Dorian Gray’s journey towards depravity is clearly outlined in the novel: starting with his initial contact with the real world and ending with him having murdered a friend and then killing himself (Wilde 21, 229). Dorian is not born with a damaged soul, in fact, he creates it himself, “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 28)” He is haunted by this realization but is not actually affected by it until he jilts Sibyl Vane and gains a hideous wrinkle on his portrait (Wilde 96). After this, his descent from purity to tainted to utter corruption gains momentum. In fact, at one point he “grew more and more enamored of his own beauty, more and more interested in the corruption of his own soul” (Wilde 191). This culminates with Dorian stabbing himself at the end of the novel (Wilde 229). For his part, the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” does not start off wholly deranged in the beginning of his story; the old man’s cataracted eye freaked him out (Poe 64). However, the way he went about trying to rid his mind of the “Evil Eye” was entirely mad. His progression towards insanity is much faster than Dorian Gray’s, but, as this is a short story, the progression makes sense. At first, he is simply disturbed by the eye, however, entering the old man’s room at midnight to shine a light on the offending eye for a whole week is simply strange (Poe 65). Finally, he spends the whole night entering the old man’s room, he wakes the old man and suffocates, kills, and dismembers him; he does not neglect the appendages, as they are stuffed neatly under the floorboards (Poe 66). When he is “confronted” by the police, he believes in his deranged mind that they are mocking him and therefore confesses to the murder, attempting to salvage his demented pride he holds from his perfect plan (Poe 67). This shows just how far gone the narrator is in terms of his mental health, although he claims in the first sentence that he is perfectly fine (Poe 64). Both Dorian Gray and the narrator have a wild but defined progression from mental clarity to mental sickness.
As Dorian Gray commits more and more awful deeds for the sick amusement of visually tainting his soul, he becomes more and more paranoid that someone will find his portrait, in all its old, wrinkly, ugly glory. It starts with Basil’s first visit to Dorian after Sibyl Vane’s suicide, when he asks Dorian why he has covered the portrait and why he will not let him, the artist, see it (Wilde 115). Dorian is terrified that Basil will find the wrinkle on his otherwise perfect face and something unsavory will happen. As he perpetrates more questionable acts, he becomes both more enamored with his tainted soul as well as protective of it, going as far as to lock it in his old schoolroom and even leaves abruptly in the middle of parties to dash home and make sure nobody has found his disgusting secret (Wilde 125; 144-145). He accumulates an innumerable amount of riches and luxurious things to pass his time, yet he is still afraid that, “What if it should be stolen? The mere thought made him cold with horror. Surely the world would know his secret then. Perhaps the world already suspected it” (Wilde 145). This is a very narcissistic view on his problem, considering the unlikeliness of the event. When Basil comes to talk to him about Dorian’s public image and the validity of rumors, Dorian finally relents in showing the artist the portrait and, taking command from the portrait itself, he stabs his friend in the neck (Wilde 153; 160; 162). To add on to this monstrosity, Dorian, instead of turning himself in or doing something of a moral nature, he blackmails an old friend into dissolving Basil’s body in acid (Wilde 172-178). He tells Alan Campbell that, “You are the only one who is able to save me. I am forced to bring you into this matter” (Wilde 172). Alan, in a burst of bluntness, says, “Your life? Good heavens! What a life that is! You have gone from corruption to corruption, and now you have culminated in crime” (Wilde 176). Dorian’s morality at the end of the novel has disintegrated into mere shreds of humanity, showing this is a moral issue.
The narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” truly believes he is not mad and that his actions are completely normal and justified (Poe 64). His paranoia starts in the form of his plan: he is so terrified of the eye that he is willing to murder the old man just to get rid of it instead of leaving that situation like a normal person. He checks on the eye every night for a week like clockwork, showing more of his true colors (Poe 65). His paranoia increases when he chills in the old man’s room for a solid hour after he wakes him, just to make sure he does not detect his presence until finally the narrator attacks the old man with fury and kills him because he can hear his heartbeat (Poe 66). In order to cover up his crime, he stuffs the old man’s body parts under the floor with a calm disposition, harking to his deranged mental state, which has psychopathic tendencies (Poe 66). When talking to the police officers, the narrator is in obvious distress, but, at first, hides it well. However, after what he has done has been left to stew for awhile in his brain, he becomes more and more anxious, thinking that the police know exactly what he did but are just smiling and nodding to mock him (Poe 67). Finally, as he reaches his mental break, he loudly confesses to the crime he committed, partly due to the fact that he believes the old man’s heart is still beating under the floorboards and the police can hear it too (Poe 67). This shows how paranoia and mental illness affects the main character’s decisions and therefore the outcome of the story.
The Picture of Dorian Gray and “The Tell-Tale Heart” are revealing literary examples of the grey area of morality and mental issues in terms of paranoia and mental degradation. The two main characters, having murdered one person each, definitely have things in common concerning their motives, but the line for motives is fuzzy at best. Dr. James Knoll says that the line between moral and mental is hard to determine when it comes to a murderer’s motives, but there is a level of paranoia in any case.
Basel and Lord Henry’s Influence on Dorian
In Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, the concept of influence is clearly reflected in two different characters and in two different forms, and juxtaposes them though the main character and his reaction to the two clashing ideologies projected upon him throughout the novel. The Picture of Dorian Gray, first published in 1890 by renowned author Oscar Wilde follows the protagonist, young and incredibly beautiful Dorian Gray through the life stages of young adulthood and culminates as he matures into adulthood at the end of the novel. The novel is a manifestation of Wilde’s own ideas and attitudes of the time, his admiration of art and expression, while at the same time rejecting a great deal of art and expression, generating a complex personal stance at the concept and a supremacy complex, projected into the character of Dorian Gray. Through Wilde’s own attitudes and experiences, the character of Dorian comes to life and is used as a tool to broadcast his ideas into the world. The book encompasses as well as rejects many values of the upper class Victorian society from which it stems, such as the importance of art and supremacy of youth, however rejecting the strict religious beliefs of the time and the notion of harsh punishment for crimes. The final ideology of Dorian in the novel is influenced and somewhat controlled by two men he spends considerable amounts of time with while he is young and impressionable, Lord Henry Wotton, a nobleman who takes Dorian under his wing and Basil Hallward, a painter contracted to capture his transcendent beauty.
Lord Henry appears in The Picture of Dorian Gray as a mentor and could be viewed as a paternal figure to the young and susceptible Dorian, however, in contrast to Basil, Henry appears almost entirely as a negative influence in Dorian’s life, driving him to live a morally wrong life. Henry’s influence upon Dorian is entirely derived from the values of the upper class Victorian English society, placing high importance on art and youth/beauty and having little care for the struggles of others, placing himself on a higher level and living a hedonistic life. Henry tells Dorian “People like you – the wilful sunbeams of life – don’t commit crimes, Dorian” and says “Oh, she is better than good – she is beautiful,” when discussing Sibyl Vane with Basil, both indicative of his lack of morality and shallowness regarding the important aspects in his life. The power of using a metaphor to describe Dorian, as a “sunbeam of life” is incredibly significant in assessing the power and influence that Henry holds over Dorian, being able to convince him to do, say and think seemingly anything. Henry completely influence’s Dorian’s life in regards to his ability to make Dorian think whatever he wants, and has forced the idea upon him that beauty and youth will conquer morality and that it weights more heavily than being a good person, thus making Henry a device of sin in Dorian’s life.
Directly contrasting with Lord Henry’s negative influence on Dorian’s life, Basil appears to Dorian as a beacon of light and morality, emerging at a time in Dorian’s life where he was perhaps too immersed in Lord Henry’s influence, however Basil’s influence over Dorian is evident as the novel continues. Basil is a physical representation of the softer concept of aestheticism, in that he values art and the more expressive features of life over the more political or theoretical, but the power of youth, beauty, art and hedonism hasn’t not consumed him in the way it has Lord Henry, and later the way Dorian is consumed by The Yellow Book. Where Henry’s influence and adoration of Dorian relates to his perfection because of his beauty and youth, Basil’s influence and adoration of Dorian stems from his beauty but is magnified by his personality and Basil’s opinion on the beauty of his soul, as evidenced in his speech “Dorian, from the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me. I was dominated, soul, brain, and power, by you.” The amplification in Basil’s dialogue, extending Dorian’s power over him from an obsession to a beautiful sounding worship has an incredible effect on Dorian, hearing of Basil’s love for him, of an astounding and possibly homoerotic nature. Basil in this way attempts to make his influence over Dorian one of a positive nature of emotional growth and connectedness rather than a life of hedonism as Henry is trying to sway him to, in that way; Basil is arguably a good influence over Dorian, promoting love and kindness over coldness and egotism.
In contrast to previous statements about Henry being representative of the concept of evil, Henry does genuinely care about Dorian and tries to better Dorian’s life through interjecting his opinions and guiding him. Without a predominant father figure in his life, (his father having been killed in a duel and subsequently being raised by his grandfather when his mother died) it is likely that Dorian reached out towards Henry because of the absence of a paternal figure, having only his “wicked” grandfather for guidance, and without any textual evidence of a strong relationship between them, it is likely that Lord Henry was closer to Dorian than his grandfather. In Henry’s eyes, friendship is less about loyalty than it is about enjoying oneself: “’Always!’ That is a dreadful word. It makes me shudder when I hear it. Women are so fond of using it. They spoil every romance by trying to make it last for ever. It is a meaningless word, too. The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.” The analogy Henry makes to the concept of “always” being like a caprice is one that invokes great thought in Dorian and sways him to accept Lord Henry’s reasoning and live for the moment, which Henry would have thought would lead to an enjoyable and significantly less painful life, giving Dorian no expectations of people to always stay or live up to their promises and instead take every day and situation as it comes in order for him to get the most out of his life. This diverges from the idea that Lord Henry is only a negative influence in Dorian’s life and encourages the idea that perhaps Lord Henry was just incredibly misguided in his guidance of Dorian.
Likewise, with the duality of Lord Henry’s influence, Basil also exhibits a negative influence over Dorian, feeding his vanity and then complaining about it later. Dorian’s accusation of how Basil only taught Dorian to be vain is true to an extent, as Basil did gloat over Dorian openly and often while he was painting Dorian and after the painting was completed. Dorian’s defense of Henry; “I owe a great deal to Harry, Basil,” (…) “more than I owe to you.” Is not only reflective of the novel but also of the events that occurred as a precursor, as far as Dorian meeting and befriending Henry and the advice and guidance Henry gave him up to the points that we are critical of as readers. The language Basil uses when talking to Dorian is often that of an intense infatuation and worship which influences Dorian in the wrong way to become more egotistical when Basil was aiming to make him more self aware and to undo Lord Henry’s work in how selfish Dorian is, leaving the audience with a bitter frame of mind to see Basil’s downfall and the irony it encompasses.
The influence that both Harry and Basil hold over Dorian through the duration of the novel is ultimately a fight of good versus evil, altogether, Henry represents evil and immorality, and Basil represents goodness and decency. The morals that they each try to impose on Dorian are their own values derived from the Victorian society in which they lived and though sometimes misguided, both Basil and Lord Henry had their reasoning behind their values and their justification for attempting to etch these values onto their human canvas: Dorian Gray.