Essay on Picture of Dorian Gray: Discovering Wilde

Essay on Picture of Dorian Gray: Discovering Wilde

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Discovering Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray     


    The Picture of Dorian Gray can be defined as a symbolic representation of a dialectic between two aspects of Wilde's personality. Dorian is an archetypal image by which both aspects are fascinated. This suggests that his behaviour symbolizes Wilde's unconscious (i.e. unacknowledged) attitudes. Dorian is characterized by his evasiveness and his obsession with objets d'art. For example, when Basil comes to console him about Sibyl's death, he is unwilling to discuss the matter. He does not want to admit the possibility that his behaviour was reprehensible. He tells his friend: "If one doesn't talk about a thing, it has never happened. It is simply expression, as Harry says, that gives reality to things" (107). Later, after murdering Basil, he again seeks to avoid acknowledging what he has done: "He felt that the secret of the whole thing was not to realize the situation" (159).

Dorian escapes from every unpleasant realization by turning his attention to other things. Unwilling to admit that his actions have moral implications, he seeks refuge in art. On hearing of Sibyl's death, he accepts an invitaton, for that very evening, to go to the opera. He learns to see life only from an aesthetic perspective. He reflects:

Form is absolutely essential to it. It should have the dignity of a ceremony, as well as its unreality, and should combine the insincere character of a romantic play with the wit and beauty that makes such plays delightful to us. (142)

The consequence of this attitude is that he finds himself increasingly "stepping outside" his experiences in order to observe them from a distance. Instead of living his experiences more intensely, he finds himself o...


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...It is worth noting that Wilde wrote of the characters in his only novel: "Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be -- in other ages, perhaps" (Letters, 352). Dorian personifies a conflict between Dionysian and Apollonian elements particularly fascinating to his creator. He has a passion for "the colour, the beauty, the joy of life" (40), but avoids becoming involved with any experience for fear of it causing him possible pain. Basil's and Lord Henry's fascination with him represents Wilde's obsession with a young dandy whose evasiveness and pseudo-aestheticism symbolize his own unconscious fears. Works Cited

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ed. Isobel Murray. London: Oxford University Press, 1974.

Wilde, Oscar. The Letters of Oscar Wilde. Ed. R. Hart-Davis. London: Hart-Davis, 1962.

 

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