This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by professional essay writers.

The Image of a Sin in Literature Works as a Part of Human Nature

downloadDownload printPrint

Remember! This is just a sample.

You can get your custom paper by one of our expert writers.

Get custom essay

121 writers online

Download PDF

“… he felt now that his soul was festering in sin”. Joyce signals Stephen’s transition from innocent bystander to self-proclaimed sinner within A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Dorian has a similar transformation in realising his beauty from Basil’s portrait “he had recognised himself for the first time”. Human nature refrains from labelling people sinners to find morality and virtue within them that they fail to find within themselves. By modern standards, Joyce’s depiction of Stephen does not fall under general conceptions of sin. However, religiously and morally, the nature of Stephen Dedalus and Dorian Gray’s crimes forces contemporary readers to view them both as such. The difference being whether their sins are a conscious choice to commit malicious behaviour as a defect of human nature, or the ramifications of upbringing and external influences that compel them to sin.

Basil’s initial description of Dorian’s “simple and beautiful nature” plays a part in reflecting a sense of innocence and naivety. Significantly, Dorian has not yet been introduced to the decadent Lord Henry here. Before a speech from Henry, Dorian feels that youth is not the only thing worth having; after this speech he states when he finds himself growing old, “[he] shall kill [him]self” indicating that the most substantial influence on his aversion to sin is Henry. Henry himself believing that to influence a person is to give them “one’s own soul” and all consequential sins are “borrowed”. It is therefore clear that Dorian’s subsequent desires to sin are Henry’s desires. Sin, while being fundamental to Lord Henry’s human nature, is not fundamental to Dorian’s until he is influenced by Henry. While this may be true, Dorian is perhaps too easily coerced into a life of sin to blame all his resultant behaviours solely on Henry. Finding out Sybil is dead, the ‘roses are not less lovely’ and the ‘birds sing just as happily’; he is only too pleased that he has sinned, and his day is to proceed just the same. Sin quickly prevails remorse. Basil’s brief description of Dorian as ‘simple and beautiful’ suggests an innocence, but Wilde only fully introduces his character when Henry is present; the reader is unaware of who exactly Dorian Gray was preceding this. Wilde therefore alludes to the interpretation that he was already a sinner. Echoing this, Joyce indicates Stephen’s affinity with sin early on. Upon first introduction with “a terrible and strange sin”, instinctively it “thrilled him to think of it”. This is indicative of sin being a fundamental part of his human nature as Stephen’s initial reaction to it is enamour.

Both characters affinity with sin can be explained in part by the prevalence of mythology in Joyce and Wilde’s works. The most obvious reference embodied in Stephen Dedalus’ name is St Stephen; the martyr stoned to death for his belief in the Christian faith. In using this name, this is conclusive evidence that Stephen is fated with a similar life consisting of uncompromising faith, and, free of sin. Yet, readers witness Stephen’s pull against religious life, namely as he discovers within his soul a ‘cold and cruel and loveless lust’ represented by harsh alliteration contrasted with sibilance establishing Stephen’s emptiness. Murphy argues that “For Stephen, the religious life in effect becomes a sin against life”. However, this derives from the idea that religion suppresses his artistic desires, but, from a religious perspective, he still commits a sin through inadvertently denying God. Joyce also employs this to symbolise the confinement of an Irish Catholic upbringing. Contrary to the myth, Stephen is depicted as a sinner, not a martyr, and unfairly punished for not following the strict life of the Jesuits. Comparably, within Greek mythology, Daedalus was an artisan who built the labyrinth. In wanting to follow a life in the arts, he again denies Catholicism, committing sin. As well, Daedalus being a demigod he, again, denies the existence of a Christian god. Meaning Stephen, as a result of his name, is predestined to be enveloped by sin. Through this, it is therefore undeniable that it is fundamental to him. While Wilde also uses Greek mythology, he develops Dorian’s affliction through the influence of other characters. The temptation of an “Hellenic ideal” in giving “reality to every dream” is enticing to an otherwise sheltered Dorian Gray. Henry’s words make Dorian’s life suddenly “fiery-coloured to him”. He is moulded into a sinner by ideas of infinite and unscathed beauty derived from Henry’s images of Classical Greek culture. To Dorian, Greece grants liberty to his muted desires. Sin, therefore, only becomes fundamental to him as Henry makes Dorian’s life feel inferior to the possibility of a “finer, richer” one. As well, Henry refers to Dorian as “Narcissus”- a hunter in Greek mythology known for falling in love with his own reflection, committing suicide upon realising his love would never materialise. In terms of the seven deadly sins, Dorian is the epitome of pride which is not only a detrimental sin to himself but those around him, also.

Dorian’s first sin, that readers are aware of, has very little effect on himself other than feeding his already growing narcissism. Most impacted is Sibyl Vane; in rejecting her, she commits suicide. Dorian’s portrait changes to reveal “a touch of cruelty in the mouth” embodying his sin. Upon discovering Sibyl has committed suicide for love of him, he feels she was “selfish” as he is partially implicated. His passive approach to the rejection and death of a girl he supposedly once loved is evidence enough of a character enveloped by sin. Despite this, feminist readers would dictate that Sibyl’s suicide is the result of a weak characterisation of a woman in Victorian society on Wilde’s behalf, possibly because all three of his sisters and his wife predeceased him, as opposed to any sin Dorian committed. Sybil’s naivety describing Dorian as ‘Prince Charming’ and believing ‘Love is more than money’ suggests women rely solely on the love of men and a romanticised idea of love for fulfillment. Despite this, her virtuous depiction still evokes sympathy from readers. In turn, Wilde’s antagonist is proven to have an innate capacity to sin through his callous treatment of her. Additionally, suicide was condemned by the church as “the unforgivable sin” and was illegal in England. Thus, through Dorian’s first sin, Sibyl is compelled to sin. Dorian’s malignant personality also coerces Alan Campbell into disposing of Basil Hallward’s murdered body. Alan proceeds to ‘absolutely refuse’ Dorian’s request until Gray threatens him with a letter containing information that would plague Campbell or someone he cares for. Forcing him to sin through a promise of torment if he does not comply. Dorian’s letter was also ‘written already’. He had premeditated Alan’s refusal and intended to threaten him. Wilde urges readers to recognise that there is no longer a way for Dorian to seek redemption; sinning is fundamental to him. He has preempted threatening a person he was ‘once friends’ with, and the only positive influence upon him, he has murdered, claiming Basil ‘made him suffer’. The implication being Basil caused him to sin as he created the portrait, yet, this is simply evidence of his lack of responsibility for his own crimes. Basil has only made Dorian ‘suffer’ by reminding him that he has ‘done enough evil’ in his life, suggesting he prays to repent for it. Ultimately Basil bears the consequences for Dorian’s sins and unjustifiably feels culpable for them as he ‘worshipped [him] too much’. Dorian becomes a religious figure through the ‘Worship’ he receives, deciding who lives and dies around him; they bear the consequences of his transgressions. Arguably, Wilde’s novel therefore criticises the upper classes for their decadence and sinful behaviour as Dorian’s only consequence is his accidental suicide, years after beginning to commit his atrocities.

However, Dorian can be perceived as a victim of Lord Henry. Henry’s fascination with moulding what he believes to be “the real Dorian Gray” who imagines his beauty “is a form of genius” enables Dorian’s narcissism. To preserve this love of himself he is driven to murder Basil; the only living reminder of what he has become. Eventually he believes that through ridding himself of the portrait, “he would be free” of any guilt. This finally kills him. The true sinner, Lord Henry, remains untouched by his sins. Aside from Dorian’s suicide, the characters most affected by Henry’s influence upon Dorian are the most humble (Basil) and derive from lower class backgrounds (Sibyl). Thus, making Henry more malicious by persecuting those who deserve it least. Wilde appears to suggest that sin is a fundamental part of human nature, if you are a part of the upper classes. From a Marxist perspective this suits the narrative that the bourgeoisie (embodied by Henry and Dorian) remain unscathed by their lack of morality. Victorian society’s paradigm of the labouring classes deemed them more immoral than its elites. Forcing those such as Sybil and Alan to bear the stigma of sinners, as opposed to the true reprobates.

While Wilde may be correct in that the aristocracy are more sinful, Stephen Dedalus within ‘a portrait…’ does not sin until his family’s finances begin to fail. Their family are forced to move to a ‘bare and cheerless’ house in Dublin adversely affecting their societal status, mirroring Joyce’s own unstable household at a time of British rule in Ireland. It is this move that prompts new feelings of desire within Stephen illustrating that sin was not simply limited to upper classes; instead thriving in adverse socio-economic climates. Finances decline further sending Stephen and his father to Cork to sell land. It is here Stephen sees the word ‘foetus’ carved into a desk at his father’s old school conjuring thoughts of the student who wrote and laughed at his own handywork. He finds in the outer world a trace of what he thought was a ‘brutish and individual malady’ of his own mind. Knowing lust is not confined to him, Stephen loathes himself for ‘his own mad and filthy orgies’; he is exposed to the control lust has over him. Arguably, Stephen has already sinned by simply having these thoughts as Biblically ‘anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’  Yet, to a modern audience this is hardly sinful as Stephen has not acted upon his desires yet and feels a deep hatred towards them. Revealing, despite this, that sin is fundamental to human nature as both the students and Stephen were captivated by desire regardless of whether they acted upon it. Joyce demonstrates that Stephen is encapsulated by nothing but his strangled lust: ‘Nothing moved him or spoke to him from the real world’, only the ‘infuriated cries within him’. A metaphor that proves sin has seized him entirely.

However, Stephen’s sins arguably only cause harm to himself. As he begins to sin, readers feel it justified. They have bore witness to his descent into sinning and understand his lack of religious feeling. Through writing in a stream of consciousness Joyce presents an intimate look at how Stephen thinks. Particularly after he is wrongly punished by a priest at school resulting in ‘pain scalding tears’; at this point his profound respect for the Catholic process is still obvious as he does not want this priest to think him ‘proud’ but this is where his pull from religion arguably begins as Stephen witnesses corruption within Catholicism. At this point, sin is not a fundamental part of him as he longs to be accepted by the Jesuits at his school, but this wrongdoing at the hands of priests pushes him into sin. Religion therefore becomes a catalyst for Stephen’s sin. Yet, Stephen predominantly bears the burden of his sins. After Father Arnall’s speech at the retreat, he feels the weight of his soul ‘fattening and congealing into a gross grease’; plosive and guttural sounds produce a hardness in Stephen’s language showing his soul becoming engulfed by sin and the weight of accountability he feels for it. In direct opposition to Dorian, Stephen feels immense guilt for each sin he has committed and fears the possible damnation awaiting him. In other ways, his sins affect others more than himself. He longs ‘to force another being to sin with him’ consciously compelling prostitutes to do so. However, Joyce indicates that Stephen is ‘surrendering himself’ to who he sleeps with; they hold control and he is captive to them as well as his own lust. Their sins are not the result of Stephen but themselves. Wilde also writes of Dorian’s affiliation with prostitutes. While it is difficult to call this sinful as these women willingly sleep with both Dorian and Stephen, Dorian makes them ‘afraid’ of him. One woman begs James Vane ‘don’t give me away to him’. Dorian’s sinful greed inclines him to have absolute power to the extent that these women are afraid of what might happen if they were to become his captives. This attribute can only be fundamental to him as he already holds societal power through wealth and beauty, but this is not nearly enough. He craves a physical power over people, and this is most easily found by paying for sex.

This power is prevalent throughout much of the novel until the final chapter. Unknowingly, Dorian kills himself through stabbing his painting. Generally, suicide gives people ultimate control over themselves as they alone choose to end their lives, but, Wilde strips Dorian of this choice as he solely believes he was ridding himself of the portrait to ‘be at peace’. When he has power, he stops himself confessing, saying people would call him ‘mad’ and states that the Basil Hallward’s death ‘seemed very little to him’. Significantly, when power is finally stripped from him, he receives retribution for his sins. Thus, begging the question: If Dorian Gray continued to have power, would he ever have repented for his sins? He clearly feels some guilt as the portrait ‘had kept him awake at night’ but, most likely, he would continue to sin. Without the portrait, there would be no surviving reminder of his previous sins to evoke feelings of guilt within him. Due to this, readers naturally feel more empathy for Stephen within ‘A portrait…’ as he seeks redemption of his own accord.

Yet, added enmity is created towards Dorian as, even in death, it is unlikely he finds any redemption. Darwinian critic Carroll maintains that his ‘suicide is not a form of resolution. It is a capitulation to ultimate failure.’ Through his self-sacrifice he is encapsulated as a sinner perpetually avoiding the process of atonement and absolution; ‘by killing himself, he never stops being himself’. He can never be redeemed as death is the avoidance of retribution. Still, through this, his portrait is restored to its virtuous form before he sinned. Dorian therefore becomes immortalised as this innocent version of himself. Indicating that he is void of blame for his actions in life, and his ultimate atonement is merely death, paling in comparison to the wealth of sins he committed and should compensate for. Here Wilde could be reiterating his comments on the corruption of aristocracy. Despite his impiety, Dorian will only ever be remembered in the format of the portrait; innocent and beautiful. Thus, the upper classes, while having some notoriety, seldom lose their stature and influence within a society. Their placid facade impairs any remaining sense of morality which would compel them to redeem themselves, thus sin is fundamental to them.

Stephen, however, first seeks and successfully attains redemption through attending confession. His morality urged him to reveal all his ‘sins of impurity’ as they ‘trickled in shameful drops from his soul’. His sins have been metaphorically drained from him as he embarks to live a life of ‘peace and virtue’ compelling him to risk ‘shame’ and humiliation for it. It is eminently clear to readers that Stephen repents for his sins, but, modern readers would possibly find his succeeding relentless dedication to religious life entirely unnecessary. Stephen’s life becomes ‘laid out in devotional areas’. This meticulous commitment to religion effectively denies him life. He is met with the opportunity to become part of the order but imagines himself ‘trying vainly to struggle with his prayers’ against the ‘fainting sickness of his stomach’. Sibilance demonstrating that religion is a contagion and he is instead destined to be ‘elusive of social or religious orders’ alluding to the artist within him. So, while Stephen does feel a deep resentment towards his series of sins, both Stephen and readers conclude that a life with the religious order would be sacrilege for the artist within him.

Finally coming to realise this, he begins to recognise the meaning within his name. His friends call to him using its Greek form ‘Stephanos Dedalos!’. Prompting Stephen to make connections between himself and the ‘fabulous artificer’. An epiphany that sends his soul ‘soaring in an air beyond the world’ and shows him that this is ‘the call of life to his soul not the dull gross voice of the world of duties’. While he turns away from the religious life, this does not make him a sinner again. His lust reappears as ‘a lust of wandering’- he can no longer suppress it, but it is now a curiosity to pursue the arts. Thus, suggesting this is Stephen’s true self-redemption as, through the arts, he finds an outlet for feelings that would otherwise have been sinful.

Sin is plainly fundamental to Dorian and Stephen’s human nature as they embody the Artificer and the Narcissus. Yet, in religious terms Dorian fails to follow the general pattern of sin, atonement and redemption due to the extent of his perversion. His sins, which are in part a result of sacrificing himself to the influence of Lord Henry (who himself admits that there is “something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence”), are predominantly driven by his narcissism and pleasure seeking. To the extent that it exceeds common vanity and develops into a compulsion to sin that religious redemption cannot fix. This is his human nature, but the influence of Lord Henry allows this fixation to entirely consume him, and Wilde finally constructs Dorian’s suicide to represent him ultimately evading any justice for what he has done. Joyce also demonstrates a failure in religion to redeem Stephen as his sins are intrinsic to him. His human nature committed the sin and, so, his human nature must redeem himself; impossible for Dorian as his indifference grew too great. Therefore, both Dorian and Stephen have a human nature that dictates sin is fundamental to it, but only Stephen has the capacity to feel true remorse. Thus, Stephen does not allow sin to govern him permitting the ultimate self-redemption.    

Remember: This is just a sample from a fellow student.

Your time is important. Let us write you an essay from scratch

experts 450+ experts on 30 subjects ready to help you just now

delivery Starting from 3 hours delivery

Find Free Essays

We provide you with original essay samples, perfect formatting and styling

Cite this Essay

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

The Image of a Sin in Literature Works as a Part of Human Nature. (2022, July 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from
“The Image of a Sin in Literature Works as a Part of Human Nature.” GradesFixer, 07 Jul. 2022,
The Image of a Sin in Literature Works as a Part of Human Nature. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 16 Aug. 2022].
The Image of a Sin in Literature Works as a Part of Human Nature [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Jul 07 [cited 2022 Aug 16]. Available from:
copy to clipboard

Where do you want us to send this sample?

    By clicking “Continue”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.


    Be careful. This essay is not unique

    This essay was donated by a student and is likely to have been used and submitted before

    Download this Sample

    Free samples may contain mistakes and not unique parts


    Sorry, we could not paraphrase this essay. Our professional writers can rewrite it and get you a unique paper.



    Please check your inbox.

    We can write you a custom essay that will follow your exact instructions and meet the deadlines. Let's fix your grades together!


    Hi there!

    Are you interested in getting a customized paper?

    Check it out!
    Don't use plagiarized sources. Get your custom essay. Get custom paper

    Haven't found the right essay?

    Get an expert to write you the one you need!


    Professional writers and researchers


    Sources and citation are provided


    3 hour delivery