The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Jun 18, 2018 at Literature Essays
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In this book report the analysis of the book The Picture of Dorian Gray is presented. In the review the main ideas of the book, symbols and allegories are presented. The examples of decadent and hedonistic philosophies are depicted in the book report by vivid examples, including the main characters’ attitude to life, their specific values and readiness to sacrifice morality for the sake of pleasure. Aesthetic sensation plays very important role in relation to the characters of the book.
Keywords: Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, hedonism
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a literary piece that glorifies the philosophy of hedonism. This trend means that one is allowed to do everything he or she likes, even to commit a crime to achieve the aims. Initially, Lord Henry is the follower of this theory. Later, it is accepted by Dorian Gray. The main character of the novel tries to get eternal youth after reading decadent book Against Nature by J. K. Huysmans. Despite the fact that the appearance of the hero in the book changes, as the main character loses his youth, Dorian’s appearance does not change. Finally, he kills himself and this is the sign of God’s punishment for all the crimes he has committed.
In this book report the analysis of The Picture of Dorian Gray is presented. The work consists of the three parts: introduction, the main body, and conclusion. The main ideas and the themes of the book, allegories and symbols that are implicitly present in the novel are all analyzed in the review.
Main Ideas of the Book
In this section, the main ideas and themes of The Picture of Dorian Gray are reviewed, including “Good vs. Evil”, “Youth”, “Mortality”, “Innocence”, “Morality and Ethics”, “Appearances”, “Transformation”, “Sexuality and Sexual Identity”, “Friendship”.
1. Good vs. Evil. Eternal Struggle
In the Picture of Dorian Gray the eternal struggle between Good and Evil can be observed. It can be proved by the main characters’ conduct. Dorian can not resist the temptation and wish to be forever young. While his portrait grows old, he remains young but with a bad soul.
And finally, by the end of the book Good wins, as trying to destroy the portrait, Dorian kills himself.
There are no doubts that everyone dreams of being forever young. To attain eternal youth and beauty, Dorian has to pay very high price – he sells his soul. Then he is heartless, cruel, greedy, he can not love people and simply plays with the feelings. However, he does this in an amazingly beautiful way! Describing Dorian, Lord Henry says, “Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world. No wonder Basil Hallward worshipped him” (Wilde, 2008). Dorian gets seemingly eternal youth at very high cost. Although the youth is much appreciated in the book, the main idea is that the youth should be glorified, but we all have to give it up in time.
Dorian tries to get eternal youth to be a subject of admiration. But finally, he loses his gift. So the idea is that none can escape mortality.
Initially, Dorian is an innocent, lamb-like person. With the development of the plot, he reveals his real nature. So the idea is that pure innocence is impossible, as everyone has latent desires, and in every person the part of evil is hidden.
5. Morality and Ethics
Every character in The Picture of Dorian Gray has moral scale of their own. We see that Dorian kills his best friend Bazil and tries to hide the crime, destroying the body chemical. Characters of the novel try to adjust morality to their own desires and needs.
Every one of us remember the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. Like one should not judge person by the appearance. Some people can seem very beautiful and innocent by appearance, having cruel soul inside. Dorian avoids punishment for his crimes, as people can not believe he is guilty, as he looks like an innocent lamb.
7. The Ideas of Transformation
In fairy-tales we mostly see positive transformations, when a poor girl becomes a princess, pumpkin turns into a beautiful carriage, a duck becomes a beautiful swan. Unlike good old fairy-tales, in The Picture of Dorian Gray everything is otherwise: initially, Dorian is innocent and with the development of the plot he turns into a cruel person who kills and can not experience positive feelings like love and compassion. His inner world is in the realm of evil. Even Bazil, who admired and idolized Dorian so much in the beginning of the novel, finally realizes that Gray has changed, so he says, “A strange sense of loss came over him. He felt that Dorian Gray would never again be to him all that he had been in the past. Life had come between them.... His eyes darkened, and the crowded flaring streets became blurred to his eyes. When the cab drew up at the theatre, it seemed to him that he had grown years older”.(Wilde, 2008).
8. Theme of Sexual Identity and Sexuality
As it is well-known, Oscar Wilde, although married and having children, had also male lovers and this passion brought him to jail. Some characters of the novel, like Basil and Lord Henry, also experience homosexual behavior.
9. Idea of Friendship
Every character of The Picture of Dorian Gray delivers an idea of friendship of their own. For some it means admiration, loyalty and devotion, to others it is only temporal companionship and relationships of mutual interests.
Every of these ideas is initially latent, but all of them are well described while the plot of the book develops.
Symbolism, Imagery World, Allegory in the Book.
Portrait of Dorian Gray is like a living allegory of his soul – the more crimes Dorian commits, the uglier the portrait becomes. All the deeds of Dorian are immediately reflected on the surface of the canvas. Although the main character tries to hide the portrait, at the end of the novel a painter Bazil sees the ugly portrait. Dorian kills his friend and destroys the portrait that he hates, in this way killing himself.
2. The Yellow Book
Lord Henry gives Dorian a decadent book Against Nature by J. K. Huysmans. While reading this piece, Dorian compares himself with the main character, a spoiled man who is seeking for aesthetic sensations that finally loses his youth and beauty. Dorian realizes that he must take everything from youth and his present life. He is scared to lose all he has, so he decides to sell his soul for the imaginary eternal youth. Yellow Book symbolizes the negative influence Lord Henry has on Dorian.
3. Sex, drugs and opera
All these symbols belong to hedonistic philosophy of Lord Henry that is transmitted to Dorian. Lord Henry believes that sensual pleasure stands above all. And if so, everything is allowed, even crimes. This turns Dorian into a robotic living being, who cherishes only material world, but his inner world, reflected on his portrait, is full of evil nature and deeds.
These main symbols are of implicit meaning, they are reflected in the plot development by the acts of the main characters of the book.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a literary work of a great importance. Additionally, the book is difficult for understanding in some way. While reading, it is not easy to understand why lamb-like Dorian has so unstable personality and is so easily ready to being leaded into the temptation by Lord Henry. I think that Oscar Wilde tries to make readers sure that Good and Evil are struggling with each other in every person’s soul and not everyone is ready to resist temptation.