The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde



“Like the painting of a sorrow,
A face without a heart.”
- Hamlet

When I went to the movies, I didn’t expect to be so intrigued by the characters that I would want to read about them individually. “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” had many interesting characters: Mena the vampire, Alan Quartermain the hunter, Skinner the invisible man, Nemo the pirate, Dr. Jekyll the scientist, Tom Sawyer of the CIA, and Dorian Gray the immortal. Out of all the characters, Dorian Gray seemed to have the most interesting story to tell. I didn’t know anything about the book, but when I went to the book store, I asked for anything about Dorian Gray that they might have. I was both embarrassed and surprised when the lady picked out several books and asked which one I wanted. The Picture of Dorian Gray was the story of a man who starts out as an innocent, loving boy, but then he made the “Devil’s Bargain-- the exchange of one’s external soul for extreme but, alas, temporary gratification.” His sins, pain, and suffering go into a painting of himself made by his friend, Basil Hallward. Lord Henry Wotton was the older man who began corrupting Dorian and made him more vain and cynical. A big part of the story was the relationship between Dorian and his cursed painting, and I believe the painting has more than one meaning in this book.

The first thing the painting reminded one of was a drug addict and his drug. After Dorian brought the painting home and realized that it was aging and he wasn’t, he hid it under a screen. Eventually, he hid it away in a locked room because his servants were curious as to why he had kept it covered. Yet, even though he was ashamed of it, he kept going into the room to study the portrait, such as an addict going back for more supplies.

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He hid it from everyone, including Basil, the artist, and became angry when anyone would ask him about it. At one point in the book, Dorian actually became anxious and wondered if anyone would stumble in the room and see it, even though it was covered and the door was locked. In the beginning of the book, Dorian’s change from innocence was almost like that of a person using a drug for the first time:

“For nearly ten minutes he stood there, motionless, with
parted lips and eyes strangely bright. He was dimly
conscious that entirely fresh influences were at work
within him. Yet they seemed to him to have come really
from himself. The few words that Basil’s friend (Lord
Henry) had said to him-- words spoken by chance, no
doubt, and with willful paradox in them-- had touched
some secret chord that had never been touched before but
that he felt was now vibrating and throbbing to curious
pulses.”

Even the characters resembled drug users, such as Lord Henry. Wilde gave him “languorous, heavy-lidded eyes, mesmerizing gestures of the hands, and a musical, dreamy contralto voice.” This painting is a toxic drug for Mr. Gray.

The painting was also a model for man vs. society. Since the painting was,technically, Dorian’s soul, he had no morals or remorse for what he did. In the beginning of the book, Dorian was a blond-haired boy full of innocence and kindness with good friends and a big heart. When he met Lord Henry, Dorian’s world changed and grew more vain about his looks and his youth. Dorian fell in love with one woman in the book and then turned his back on her because he believed he was too good for her. Throughout
the rest of the book, the high-class women Dorian dated ran from him and cursed his name. Many of the men at social gatherings wouldn’t even look him in the eye because of the rumors that they had heard about him. Though Wilde did not tell what these rumors
were about, it was evident that Dorian had built a bad reputation for himself throughout his long life. The feelings toward him were more from anger and fear of something they didn’t understand, Dorian was a mysterious person to them. Lord Henry remained good friends with Dorian and, through that friendship, many that were left of the upper class adored Dorian’s charm. When a woman told Lord Henry that she heard he was “wicked”, he seriously considered an answer and said, “It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about nowadays saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.” This quote shows that neither Dorian nor Lord Henry cared about what their society thought of them just as long as they were still held in high regard.

In the book, Dorian’s picture was an excellent model for man vs. self. The painting, in all prospects, was supposed to be Dorian Gray’s other half. Toward the middle of the book, Dorian refused to look at the painting and pretended it didn’t exist.

The portrait could be conceived as evil or good, depending how one would look at it. While Dorian was doing evil things, the painting took it upon itself and began to deteriorate with sin, but it was also evil because it allowed him to do those things without feeling remorse. He also became an excellent actor in front of his guests because he could block a bad memory easily and live in the moment. When his old friend Basil Hallward found out about the painting’s curse, Dorian was relieved to have someone else finally know his secret, but then he panicked and killed Basil. When he got rid of the body, Dorian almost entirely forgot about murdering him and almost thought back on it like a sad memory of an old friend dying at someone else’s hands. “Dorian feels keenly the terrible pleasure of a double life," such as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “There are moments, psychologists tell us, when the passion for sin, or what the world calls sin, so dominates a nature that every fibre of the body, as every cell of the brain, seems instinct with fearful impulses.” In the end, Dorian finally went mad and went to destroy the painting, but he destroys himself. Thus, man vs. self.

At the end of the book, Dorian had a man vs. fate conflict. The main reason the portrait existed was to allow Dorian to remain young and beautiful for eternity. Humans
are mortal and their fate is to die, Dorian cheated fate by selling his soul for immortality and had the painting take on his burdens. Oscar Wilde said “Man makes his end for himself out of himself: no end is imposed by external considerations, he must realize his true nature; must be what nature orders.” Fate won when Dorian killed himself by destroying the painting. The book showed that Dorian was a man and, therefore, mortal. Wilde also said “each man kills the thing he loves....The kindest use a knife. Perhaps this captures the moral of Dorian’s final lunge at the thing that has obsessed him for so many years.” So, in the end, fate won over man and it showed that man cannot win over fate.

The Picture of Dorian Gray had many conflicts in it, including man vs. society, man vs. fate, and man vs. self. The picture also resembled the drug for Dorian. Oscar Wilde’s “devil as a hero” for the book was a different approach to fictional books and he did a good job with it. Without his soul, Dorian was nothing, and as Basil said, “The harmony of soul and body-- how much that is!”
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