Essay on Picture of Dorian Gray: A Jungian Analysis

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The Picture of Dorian Gray begins with Basil describing his fascination with Dorian, and ends with his masterpiece reverting to its original splendour. He describes his reaction to Dorian in these words: "When our eyes met, I felt I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me. I knew that I had come face to face with some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself." (6) Such a reaction is not a reaction to another human being. It signals an intimation of something super-human. The word "fascinating" comes from fascinum, which means "spell." A fascination is caused by unconscious factors. It grips us; it holds us in its power; it acts upon us. The expression "face to face" suggests an image of a "god" -- cf. Jacob's experience at Peniel (Gen. 32.30) or Moses in the Tabernacle (Ex. 33.11). Dorian as both Dionysos and Apollo corresponds to both Jung's definitions of the Self: "a god-image in the psyche," and a "complexio oppositorum" (Vol. 9.ii; par. 73; also CW 11.283). For Jung held that a god-image must be a mixture of opposites "if it is to represent any kind of totality" (CW 13.289). According to Jung, the Self is an autonomous archetypal image, which symbolizes something towards which the individual is striving. An experience of the Self thus represents an intimation of a meaning which the individual has not yet assimilated. The individual's task is to integrate the meaning implicit in his or her particular experience, but not to identify with it, for this would signal psychological inflation. Basil lives only for his art (56). He is afraid of life, because it is capable of exerting an influence over him which he feels as threatening. He is afraid of Dorian, because Dorian personifies the Dionysian side of his own personality which he has repressed. Thus he needs Dorian, because only through Dorian can he feel that he is alive. The contrast between them is suggestive. Basil is fascinated by what he himself is not. The attributes which he finds so fascinating stand in "compensatory" relation to him. But, instead of seeing his fascination as symbolic of a need to develop the Dionysian side of his own personality, he seeks to perpetuate his experience through art.

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