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Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray

Updated on April 1, 2012

Where Oscar Wilde is a known poet, playwriter, essayist, and journalist, he only produced and published one novel. The Picture of Dorian Gray was originally published in 1890.

Wilde made several revisions to the edition he published in the July 1980 issue of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, adding new chapters and amending the work, republishing in 1891.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is considered a work of classic gothic fiction with a strong Faustian theme.

Essentially, the story is about Dorian Gray, a young man, who has his portrait painted by Basil Hallward. Hallword became infatuated with Gray's beauty, and his admiration for the boy intriged Lord Henry Wotton into wanting to meet Gray. Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfillment of the senses, which is when Gray realizes that his beauty will fade.

When the portrait is complete, he expresses the want to sell his soul so that he does not age, but that the portrait ages instead. Dorian's wish is fulfilled, and throughout the novel he has a series of immoral acts. With each act and sin, the portrait displays Grays disfigurement.

At the end of the novel, Gray decides to confess his sins in attempts to clear his conscience. He plunges the knife that killed Hallword into the portrait, killing himself and reverting the painting to its original form.

Themes

  • Supremacy of Youth and Beauty

Throughout the novel, beauty reigns supreme. Lord Henry suggest that Dorian Gray will lose his main attribute- youth and beauty- and that of all things in life, physical attraction is most highly valued. Dorian gifts his soul to maintain his beauty and youthful appearance, and throughout the novel, he must preoccupy himself with beautify things, such as music, jewels, and rare fabrics, in order to distance himself from the horrors of his sins.

  • Superficial Nature of Society

Society prices beauty above all, which is easily seen as even if a person has a terrible soul, such as Dorian Gray, it pays no mind as long as he is handsome. Lord Henry, Dorian, and the company they keep maintains a superficial nature, as beauty means everything. Even as Dorian evolves socially and scholarly, he still maintains immoral actions, yet no one ostracizes him until Basil warns him. Lady Narborough notes that there is little distinction between ethics and appearance, in that you are made to be good so you look good.

  • Consequences of Influence

The portrait has a huge effect on how Dorian lives his life for nearly two decades. Dorian's interpretation of beauty and age is easily influenced by the portrait and by Lord Henry's cynicism and poisonous theories. Allowing people to influence him, Dorian creates his own downfall, sacrificing himself and his individualism, which in turn leads to his self-destruction.

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