Essay on Picture of Dorian Gray: The Rotting of the Spirit

Essay on Picture of Dorian Gray: The Rotting of the Spirit

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The Rotting of the Spirit in The Picture of Dorian Gray

    Oscar Wilde, author of The Picture of Dorian Gray, makes Basil's life change drastically by having him paint a portrait of Dorian Gray and express too much of himself in it, which, in Wilde's mind, is a troublesome obstacle to circumvent. “Wilde believes that the artist should not portray any of himself in his work, so when Basil does this, it is he who creates his own downfall, not Dorian” (Shewan 36).


Wilde introduces Basil to Dorian when Basil begins to notice Dorian staring at him at a party. Basil "suddenly became conscious that someone was looking at [him]. [He] turned halfway around and saw Dorian Gray for the first time" (Wilde 24). Basil immediately notices him, however Basil is afraid to talk to him. His reason for this is that he does "not want any external influence in [his] life" (Wilde 24). This is almost a paradox in that it is eventually his own internal influence that destroys him. Wilde does this many times throughout the book. He loved using paradoxes and that is why Lord Henry, the character most similar to Wilde, is quoted as being called "Price Paradox."


Although Dorian and Basil end up hating each other, they do enjoy meeting each other for the first time. Basil finds something different about Dorian. He sees him in a different way than he sees other men. Dorian is not only beautiful to Basil, but he is also gentle and kind. This is when Basil falls in love with him and begins to paint the picture. Basil begins painting the picture, but does not tell anyone about it, including Dorian, because he knows that there is too much of himself in it. Lord Henry discovers the painting and asks Basil why he will not display it. Lord Henry thinks that it is so beautiful it should be displayed in a museum. Basil argues that the reason he will not display the painting is because he is "afraid that [he] has shown in it the secret of his soul" (Wilde 23). This is another paradox because he has not only shown the secret of his soul, but the painting eventually comes to show the secret of Dorian's soul also.


 In the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde explains that "to reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim" (Wilde 17).

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Basil realizes that he has not concealed himself in the painting and therefore feels the painting is not worth anything. After Lord Henry sees the painting, he asks to meet Dorian. Basil says that would not be good because his "influence would be bad" (Wilde 31). Basil is correct in saying this because Lord Henry is the main person who helps Dorian to destroy himself. Lord Henry disregards Basil's request and meets Dorian anyway. This is the beginning of the end for both Dorian and Basil because Lord Henry's influence pollutes Dorian. Lord Henry taunts Dorian and continues to remind him of all the sin that is building up and that even though his body is not aging, his soul is deteriorating fast.


When Basil notices that Dorian has not changed physically in many years, he is curious to know how Dorian stayed beautiful, but also wants to know why Dorian has changed so much emotionally. Basil does not have the painting on display, but rather keeps it in the attic. When Dorian comes over one day, he and Basil are talking when Basil asks, "I wonder do I know you? Before I could answer that, I should have to see your soul." (Wilde 216) Dorian goes into a rage and takes Basil upstairs to see his soul that is concealed in the painting. When Basil sees the painting that is bloody and atrocious looking, he cannot believe that he painted it. Dorian reassures him that it is indeed Basil's painting. In that painting is all of Dorian's hate, fear, and sadness reduced onto a canvass. When Dorian sees the picture, he blames Basil for it and picks up a knife laying on a nearby table and stabs Basil. He then takes the knife and stabs the painting in the heart, killing his soul, and returning the painting to its original form. Wilde constructs this in an interesting way because after Dorian stabs the picture, which is a representation of his soul, Wilde shows Dorian laying on the ground, wrinkled and disgusting, with a knife in his heart. Wilde did this to show that when Dorian stabbed the painting, he was actually stabbing himself.


In The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde first portrays Dorian Gray as a sweet, sensitive man whom everyone admires. When Basil, however, began admiring Dorian, he changed. Lord Henry moved into his life, and “the painting showed a form of beauty that he could never be able to achieve again in real life without the help of magic” (McCormack 113). With this, Dorian conceals his morbid soul with the painting and continues living as beautiful as he ever was, physically, but spiritually he is rotting inside. Wilde creates an animal out of the seemingly perfect man and has him destroy himself and his friends along with him. All of this happened because of the picture of Dorian Gray.


Works Cited

McCormack, Joshua. "The Mirror of Dorian Gray." The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde. Ed. Peter Raby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. 112-114.

Shewan, Rodney. Oscar Wilde: Art and Egotism. The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1977.

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Oxford University Press, New York. 1994
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