The Life of Secrecy

May 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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