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The Price of Beauty in The Picture of Dorian Gray

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“Oscar Wilde was born on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland”. He gained a degree from Oxford University. “While at Oxford he was captivated by the aesthetic theories of John Ruskin and Walter Pater… Emphasizing aesthetics over social and moral “utility” or usefulness…”. The Picture of Dorian Gray, being one of his greatest success, was believed to be as an expression his own self and beliefs. “Hardly any other writer has been the subject of so many biographies, novels, films and plays”. Wilde identified himself as a homosexual and wrote novels and plays displaying his true identity, which back in his era was not acceptable. “In the Victorian period men had to hide their homosexuality, but Wilde found a way to flaunt his feelings”. The Picture of Dorian Gray was one of his books that displayed homosexual like behavior and one of two reasons why he was sentenced to jail for “gross indecency”.

Beauty can be described into two terms: internal or external. While external beauty is always valued and based on facial and body features, internal beauty is the most truthful as it displays the pure soul of an individual. In the novel, beauty is mostly defined by physical appearance and believed to be the greatest gift. The idealization of beauty can consume one’s identity and can lead to self-destruction. Once Dorian Gray embraced his own beauty, he shaped into another individual which wasn’t himself. Early in the book, Dorian did not realize his beauty and its impact, after a comment from Lord Henry he became obsessed with retaining his youth. Lord Henry stated “No, you don’t feel it now. Some day, when you are old and wrinkled and ugly…you will feel it, you will feel it terribly” (Wilde 28). The self-destruction in book can be seen at the end where he loses the most important thing of all, his soul. In Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde features his personal philosophy, hints at narcissism, and reinforces the continuous belief that youth and looks are everything.

Oscar Wilde believed in the philosophy of Aestheticism. Aestheticism emphasizes beauty, art, and moral thought which is reflected in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, by combining the aspects together. “It is Lord Henry who persuades young Dorian Gray to live for beauty and pleasure and to damn everything else is dehumanizing vulgarity” (Allen 25). His aestheticism was the main theme throughout the novel. Readers constantly see a fluctuation of not only youth verses age, but also good verses bad morals. As Dorian showed an increase in youthfulness it resulted in an increase in his desire to do bad acts which reflects the outcome of his painting.

Oscar Wilde had many different outlooks when it came to idealism and realism. “Wilde’s view on realism can perhaps best be described as contradictory” (Waldrop). “Even so, Wilde’s opinion of realism became increasingly more negative, even Pater, in infamous review of his pupil’s novel chastised Wilde for “a whole some dislike of the common place…{which} leads him to protest emphatically against so-called ‘realism’ in art”.

While some philosophy is said to be used in his infamous novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, there are certain contradictions when it comes to the novel “Although the aesthetics believed that art existed for its own sake, the novel can be interpreted to contradict that view…Thus, the painting, the actual work of art, is not merely and object of beauty, but it is also a direct reflection and manifestation of Dorian Gray’s soul”. The portrait in the novel was supposed to represent only his external beauty but contradicted itself by showing his internal beauty. Portraits are not supposed to display flaws, thoughts and actions. Not only did his portrait age but it ultimately reflected his soul which was tainted. When Dorian decides to look at the portrait for the last time, he was hoping for a change in appearance but realized it was worse than before. “A cry of pain and indignation broke from him. He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning, and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite. The thing was still loathsome…”.

Narcissism is a characteristic that is used in most cases to describe a person that is self- centered, makes any situation about them or maybe blame other people rather than take accountability for their own actions. Thus, the term best used for describing the character Dorian Gray. Once Dorian Gray speaks to Lord Henry, he then realizes that retaining his youth and his beauty was important:

Then had come Lord Henry Wotton with his strange panegyric on youth, his terrible warning of its brevity. That had stirred him at the time, and now as he stood gazing at the shadow of his own loveliness, the full reality of the description flashed across him. Yes, there would be a day when his face would be wrinkled and wizen, his eyes dim and colorless, the grace of his figure broken and deformed. The scarlet would pass away from his lips, and the gold steal from his hair. The life that was to make his soul would mar his body. He would become dreadful, hideous and uncouth. 

Dorian Gray embracing his own beauty for the first time he understands as Lord Henry has tried to make him aware that this beautiful young face that he has in time will change into and old unattractive face.

Dorian Gray soon starts displaying hints of Narcissism in the novel. Sybil Vane was a woman that he met and fell in love with in the novel. Sybil Vane was an actress and she was performing in the play Romeo and Juliet. Dorian Gray bragged to Lord Henry and Basil Hallward about her performances and wish that they come see her. Lord Henry was not moved by Sybil Vane’s acting. In result of that Dorian Gray was furious on how she performed that night and went to her and expressed his anger. “When he entered she looked at him and an expression of infinite joy came over her. “How badly I acted tonight, Dorian!” she cried. “Horribly!” he answered., gazing at her in amazement — “horribly! It was dreadful. Are you ill? You have no idea what it was. You have no idea what I suffered.” (Wilde 76). Dorian Gray felt as she was a representation of him, he has bragged to his friends about her great acting and she performs poorly which makes Dorian Gray look bad. Dorian’s treatment towards Basil Hallward was the same as Sybil in which he becomes inconsiderate of their character. After Basil Howard is shown his once beautiful portrait, he painted years ago, it has now become hideous and Dorian Gray blames Basil Hallward for the outcome. “Dorian Gray glanced at the picture, and suddenly an uncontrollable feeling of hatred for Basil Howard came over him, as though it had been suggested to him by the image on the canvas, whispered into his ear by those grinning lips” (Wilde 134). Dorian Gray didn’t take accountability for occurrences that he brought upon himself, and like most Narcissist they blame it on others and ultimately kills Basil Hallward.

Dorian Gray embraced his beauty and never wanted to let his youth so in explaining his story to Basil he reveals that he made a “prayer” which in so many words he soul his soul to the devil. “One day you introduced me into a friend of yours, who explained to me the wonder of youth, and you finished a portrait of me that revealed to me the wonder of beauty. In a mad moment, even, that even now, I don’t know whether I regret or not, I made a wish – perhaps you would call it a prayer…” (Wilde 132). By making this prayer he didn’t realize that the path would leave him to self-destruction. Dorian Gray sees the portrait alter in front of his eyes and he views the picture as his soul and he realizes that his soul was ugly.

Was it really true that one could ever change? He felt a wild longing for the unstained purity of his boyhood — his rose-white boyhood, as Lord Henry has once called it. He knew that he had tarnished himself, filled his mind with corruption, and given horror to his fancy; that he had been an evil influence to others, and had experienced a terrible joy in being so; and that of the lives that had crossed his own, it had been the fairest and the most full of promise that he had brought to shame. But was it all irretrievable? Was there no hope for him?

Dorian Gray knew he need to destroy the portrait. He wanted to erase what he had become and erase the past. He then set out to stab the picture indication of setting his soul free “It will kill the past, and without its hideous warnings he would be at peace. He seized the thing, and stabbed the picture with it” (Wilde 188). Upon stabbing the picture, he also was killing himself. As a result of the stabbing the painting appeared to become as Basil Howard painted it years ago and Dorian Gray body resembled the hideous painting before he stabbed it. “When they entered the they found hanging upon the wall a splendid portrait of their master as they had last seen him in all the wonder of his exquisite youth and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man… He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage…”

Retaining youth and beauty is still an important factor today. Every woman now even males want to looks as perfect as possible. Plastic Surgery, Botox, Liposuction is what individuals such as celebrities gear towards to keep their body and face and looking youthful.

The opinion of today’s society has a big influence on what beauty is supposed to look like.

Obsession with beauty has become an all time high. Everywhere individuals are taking selfies using filters on snap chat enhancing ones look. Woman, instead of just making sure their clothes are just neat and not wrinkled and walking away from the mirror, they must spend hours in the mirror making sure the appearance is all the way together. Same as males, a male can change clothes five times until that right outfit just feels right. There are many disorders concerning the obsession with beauty. One most common being Body dysmorphic disorder, this is where the individual that views defects in their body that only they can detect. Little girls/little boys being introduced to the teenager world is when appearance seem to start to matter. Especially for the teenage girls this is when they get into the hair and the finger nail polish and the make up and just finding their place in the world.

While beauty is defined in many different ways by different individuals, it is obvious on television what is considered beauty. Tyra Bank’s show Next Top Model is a show based on up coming model. Mostly all the woman is fairly thin, tall and pretty. Actresses and actors whom are casted in movies have to look a certain way. If the acting world sees them as too ugly or not fit enough, or physical features are too big they may not land the role that they audition for. Some look at beauty as being your authentic self. Nowadays in the Afro- American woman are now geared towards more natural attributes such as their hair and not waring make up. People who cover their entire body with tattoos believe that their body is a work of art. There are any ways that beauty is viewed while others may disagree, its only what the individual defines it as.

Overall beauty is all in how an individual view it to be and sometimes it can come at a cost. Unfortunately for Dorian Gray he realized to late that beauty wasn’t everything. Lord Henry convince him otherwise and it altered his way of thinking and his soul was tainted by the decisions that he made. Like individuals today are easily influenced by the next person believing that looks are everything. People in the Industry do it all the time to others. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde’s own personal beliefs and narcissistic characteristics are displayed and the concept of youth and looks still applies today.

Works Cited

  • Allen, James Sloan. “The Use and Abuse of Aestheticism.” Arts Education Policy Review, vol. 104, no. 5, May 2003, p. 23. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/10632910309600059.
  • Gomel, Elana. “Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the (Un)Death of the Author.” Narrative, vol. 12, no. 1, Jan. 2004, pp. 74–92. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/nar.2003.0022.
  • Meyers, Jeffrey. “His Quest for Identity.” America, vol. 220, no. 3, Feb. 2019, pp. 44–45. EBSCOhost,
  • Profit, Vera B. “Boundaries of the Soul: Failure to Acknowledge the Separateness of Others as a Sign of Evil in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.” PsyArt, Jan. 2011, p. 16. EBSCOhost, live&scope=site.
  • Waldrep, Shelton. “The Aesthetic Realism of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray.” Studies in the Literary Imagination, vol. 29, no. 1, Spring 1996, p. 103. EBSCOhost, live&scope=site.
  • Wilde, Oscar. “The Picture Of Dorian Gray”.Delaware, The Prestwick House, 1906    

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