The (Shallow) Picture of Dorian Gray Essay

The (Shallow) Picture of Dorian Gray Essay

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Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray presents a keen question on morality: can one cleanse the senses by the means of the soul, and the soul by the means of the senses? Dorian Gray lives out this epigram of Lord Henry’s in an attempt to justify a life of hedonism and over-objectification of beauty.
Wilde introduces Dorian as a young man whose beauty rivals the “invention of the oil painting” itself (Wilde 7). Basil Hallward, the painter, claims that Dorian is “absolutely necessary” to him and showers Dorian in compliments as he paints him in Greek and Roman idealizations (7). Lord Henry tells Dorian that when his “youth” and “beauty goes,” he will discover there are “no triumphs left” for him (16). Because of his good looks, Dorian’s self-worth is inflated to a point where he believes that he should “give everything,” even his “soul,” in order to remain young and beautiful for the rest of his life (19). In sacrificing his soul for everlasting beauty, Dorian shows early in the text how little he values morality. In this Victorian era society, his beauty can excuse him from any evil deed and he takes advantage of this in his Epicurean pursuit of pleasure. Beauty gives Dorian an excuse to forever ignore morality and consequence.
The death of Sibyl Vane marks the first consequence of Dorian’s rejection of morality in favor of sensory experience. After Sibyl’s newfound love for Dorian causes her to put on a dreadful acting performance, Dorian loses all interest in the woman he previously professed to be “divine beyond all things” (59). If she no longer can act, she no longer pleases the senses of Dorian and his friends. He criticizes her for losing her “genius and intellect” and being “shallow and stupid” because she ca...


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...asure of his life. His conscience will never keep him from sinning—if anything, it will fuel his addiction to pleasure and trap Dorian in a cycle of sinning simply to savor the experience of remorse.
Using evil as a source of pleasure is why Dorian is irredeemable and not simply someone who has lost his way. Early in the novel, Lord Henry convinces Dorian that he must cleanse his soul by the means of the senses, and senses by the means of the soul (15). However, Dorian condemns himself to everlasting sin in following this epigram because he cannot cleanse his soul through the sensation of evil and still remain a moral being. He is destined to remain immoral as long as he searches for pleasure alone. If Dorian Gray’s conscience presents a true conflict between doing right and wrong, he simply savors the pleasure of dissonance and carries on as an amoral being.

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