Murder, sex, scandal, and drug abuse-all of these sins of the main character thread together to form Oscar Wilde’s The Image of Dorian Gray, a dark tale of a young man who sells his soul for fountain of youth while his picture bears the scars of his criminal offenses. However, prior to Wilde’s readers plunge into this dark immorality, they experience the novel’s preface, where Wilde declares that “all art is quite ineffective” and “there is no such thing as an immoral or a moral book” (Wilde 3-4). These statements support Wilde’s position as a key gamer in the Visual Movement, advocating “art for art’s sake.” They likewise demonstrate his position that morality just has no location in art. Yet regardless of all of this, lots of critics have tried to impose a moral on this novel. In the following paper I will examine both the unique and the arguments of those critics to identify whether or not Wilde provides his readers with a lesson in this particular art piece.
There is little argument amongst contemporary critics that The Picture of Dorian Gray is genuinely a literary masterpiece. A 1990 review of the unique notes that “regardless of the dark theme, it gives us the peculiarly Wildean brand name of flashing wit and paradox, and carefully wrought descriptions of color, noise, and even scent” (Photo 1). In a couple of descriptive words, Wilde manages to draw the reader into the sense he is trying to convey, allowing the reader vicarious experience through his descriptions. He also provides a consistent circulation of wit and paradox through the character of Lord Henry, whose statements consist of “an excellent poet, a really excellent poet, is the most unpoetical of all animals” and “a male can be delighted with any lady, as long as he does not like her” (Wilde 48, 139). Wilde combines his wit and description with a suspenseful plot that handles to keep readers captivated as he exposes each character’s fate. Together these elements form a masterpiece, however the concern is whether there is more to be discovered in the novel than art alone, whether or not an ethical is also present.
The majority of critics trying to declare The Picture of Dorian Gray as an ethical book use its conclusion to support their argument. In Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Morley declares “a stringent, underlying morality” in the text based on the reality that “after his years of ominous and voluptuous living, Dorian wants all left on the ground, dead, a figure of senile decay, while the portrait goes back to its initial charm” (72 ). Even early evaluations claiming the book as immoral note the Wilde made a “desperate effort to vamp up a ‘ethical’ for the book at the end” (Mason 65). While it holds true that Dorian dies at the end of the unique, we must closely take a look at the two parts of this argument in order to identify whether or not his death supplies the reader with an ethical. The first deals straight with the nature of Dorian’s character. The latter customer supports the presence of a moral on the basis that Dorian’s death is proper for a character he refers to as “cool, computing, [and] conscienceless” (69 ). To have no conscience is not to feel guilt or remorse for one’s actions; however, Dorian frequently feels both. We initially witness Dorian’s regret when he notices the painting’s initial modification and ends up being mindful of his first misdeed, the ending of his engagement with Sibyl Vane. The extremely believed that he might have actually been terrible to her upsets him profoundly (Wilde 73). Regret continues to plague Dorian throughout the novel, showing that he is not a character totally lacking a conscience. We see him in tears at several points in the plot revealing that his sin does deeply and mentally impact him. As an outcome of his most heinous criminal offense, the murder of his friend Basil, Dorian looses his hunger and is left “crying as one whose heart will break” (136, 153). Not only does Dorian have a conscience because he feels regret, his nature is also not cold because his crimes and regret impact him so deeply.
Wilde not just presents Dorian as a character with a conscience, but likewise one who is extremely impressionable. Wilde wants us to immediately note Dorian’s impressionable character by referring to him as a “lad” and showing how promptly the words of Lord Henry affect his naÃ ¯ ve thinking. Within moments of his physical entrance into the plot we see the enormous influence that Lord Henry works out over him, and later we witness how quickly his mind is swayed towards fascination with immoral deeds by a single book provided to him by Lord Henry (Wilde 17, 97). Due to this extremely impressionable nature and our understanding that Dorian performs in reality have a conscience, it is clear that his behavior does not stem totally from inward evil however rather from conditioning by his environment. We, therefore, need to look at Dorian’s actions and intentions within the novel and their effects to see if these consequences offer an ethical. They do not. It is just when Dorian’s objectives turn towards good that he is outwardly punished. For instance, he finds out of Sybil’s suicide just after he’s determined to do right by her. In reality it is instantly following the minute that he finishes writing a sincere apology to her that he learns of her death, permanently linking the 2 together in his mind and supplying him with his very first lesson in the rewards of morality. These lessons continue when at the height of his evil, Dorian discovers real satisfaction and is exempt from all consequence. For instance, fate avoids James Vane from justly killing him two times. Even his final effort at a kindness, which I will talk about in the next section, follows this pattern, instructing Dorian and the reader that repentance brings unnecessary pain and suffering while wallowing in sin brings only beauty and pleasure.
Even though it is clear that Dorian’s nature is not inherently wicked, we still can not neglect the second part of the argument of critics who impose an ethical on the ending, the reality that Dorian’s actions-murder, vanity, sexual promiscuity, and drug abuse-were undoubtedly evil and his fate at the end of novel is death. The concern is whether this fate genuinely demonstrates a sense of cosmic justice, and in order to show that it does not I will examine the events right away surrounding Dorian’s death in addition to his objectives in ruining the portrait. Dorian acknowledges to Lord Henry that “I have done a lot of terrible things in my life. I am not going to do anymore. I began my great actions the other day” (Wilde 159-160). It appears that his intentions have actually lastly turned towards good, and yet fate continues teaching its immoral lesson to Dorian when he tries one even more good act towards another woman and discovers an unintentional motive in it, finding that he has lost his opportunity at real pureness. When he reaches this realization, he blames the picture, acknowledging it as the essence of his corruption. He ruins the portrait out of a desire to be set free from this corruption and to finally do something about it’s effects upon his own form, and he gets only monstrous death of both body and beauty as a reward for this last great act. Dorian is a character whose very first intents in finding the painting’s soul were to do excellent to avoid its additional marring, whose environment later on conditioned him to accept that just discomfort could come from repentance, and whose last effort to reclaim morality harshly enhanced this lesson. His death was not an outcome of some greater cosmic justice that justly penalizes the wicked and rewards the honorable, however rather an artfully designed plot twist that only served to take one final stab at morality in having Dorian destroy himself with repentance.
Although it plainly does not, if the novel did teach that a person’s fate is the just outcome of one’s actions, then this moral should be true for not only Dorian however the other characters in the unique too. I will now take a look at the fates of the secondary characters measured against their actions to show that there is no just moral in them. One critic declared that “regardless of the basic vital photo of Lord Henry as trifler, intellectual light-weight, and effete hedonist, he is in fact one of the most philosophical characters in British fiction” and after that later claims that Basil had an equivalent hand in Dorian’s corruption through his flattery (Liebman 299). Still, in spite of Harry’s approach and Basil’s flattery, the “morality” of these two characters is easily contrasted. The previous plainly corrupts Dorian and enjoys his misbehaviours while the latter, his foil in the novel, continually serves as the voice of factor throughout the plot, asking Lord Henry not to corrupt Dorian and begging Dorian to pray for his soul during their last conference. The fates of these two characters, nevertheless, do not seem just offered their actions. Basil suffers a death more uncomfortable than Dorian’s own, stabbed to death by Dorian as an outcome of attempting to redeem him. At the very same time Lord Henry does not suffer even the slightest inconvenience for damaging Dorian, and completion of the unique shows him alive and well for all his horrible actions. Another character, James Vane also loses his life while in the midst of a worthy action, attempting to satisfy a guarantee to his deceased sis. Through the fates of both these characters and Dorian, Wilde offers no relationship between actions and repercussions, a lesson from which no ethical can be derived.
Although the results of the characters present no ethical for the reader, there remains one strong argument that a moral does exist in the work. This is the truth that the author declares one. In a letter to the editor of the Daily Chronicle, Oscar Wilde claims that “the genuine ethical of the story is that all excess, in addition to all renunciation, brings its punishment, and this moral is up until now creatively and intentionally reduced that it does not articulate its law as a general concept” (345 ). The presence of an ethical, however, does not make the novel itself “ethical.” The fact that both excess and renunciation of that excess bring penalty appears to be simply another of Wilde’s well-known paradoxes, not a standard that he wishes his reader to live by. Likewise the only excess that the reader witnesses in the novel is Dorian’s, and Dorian lives in a world of eternal youth, endless impact and wealth, and exemption from all consequences for his deeds so long as they are unethical. The conditions of this world do not use in the readers’ world where even if they were to get away repercussion by possibility, they would still face the constraints of age and charm. In spite of the impracticality of this “ethical,” we should likewise acknowledge that Wilde included the novel’s preface after the book’s original printing however prior to its publication as a result of critics trying to declare his book ethical or unethical, chastising anyone who attempts to evaluate an artwork by such a standard. This beginning combined with Wilde’s stating his paradoxical moral as “deliberately reduced” shows that Wilde planned his reader to take no lesson from this tale, and those readers who carefully follow the plot and take both action and intent into consideration for all characters do not.
Anyone who browses enough time and hard enough can discover some ethical to impose on any work of literature, but this does not always imply that the author meant to put that moral within the text or that it even exists at all. This is the case with The Image of Dorian Gray. Although critics have actually attempted to find an ethical in the work since its publication, these imposed morals can not hold up against the text. Wilde had no objectives of teaching the reader a lesson. Rather he wanted merely to provide the reader with a really pleasurable piece of art, and his unique serves to do nothing more than that.
Functions Pointed out
Liebman, Sheldon W. “Character Style in The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Studies in the Novel. 31.3 (1990 ): 296-317.
Mason, Stuart. Oscar Wilde: Art and Morality. New York City: Haskell House, 1971.
Morley, Sheridan. Oscar Wilde. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1976.
“The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Rev. of The Photo of Dorian Gray. by Oscar Wilde. Magill Book Reviews 15 Sept. 1990.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray: Reliable Texts, Backgrounds, Evaluations and Responses, Criticism. Lawler, Donald L. (ed.) New York City: W. W. Norton & & Company, 1988.