The Picture of Dorian Gray is a masterpiece of aestheticism in the late 19th century written by Oscar Wilde, which follows the life of a wealthy socialite who sold his soul for immortality and beauty under the influence of vanity and hedonism. However, the novel was met with a storm of criticism as soon as it was published. For example, London’s Daily Chronicle regarded it as “a poisonous book.” Long misunderstood for its flowery language, which is attached to distorted humanity and absurd plots, the book literally has a deeper meaning.
In the novel, Wilde advocated the the supremacy of art and beauty. For instance, Dorian fell in love with an actress Sybil. But it was Sybil’s artistic beauty, not her own, that he admired. Therefore, when Sybil betrayed art, said art into a worthless thing and turned to the real life, she was abandoned by Dorian and chose to die despairingly. In this confrontation between art and life, Sybil’s death represented the failure of real life. Thus, as Wilde put it, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.”Order now
Another big theme running throughout The Picture of Dorian Gray is that of alienation, like what the expressionist master Kafka’s The Metamorphosis expressed. Dorian Gray is a character with a split personality and self-alienation, whose indulgence and depravity deprived him of reason. In fact, alienation took place under the stress of industrial civilization, which is what this book criticized. At the end of the 19th century, the full exposure of capitalism’s problems caused intellectuals to have the sorrow of the ‘end of the century’. They opposed the shackle of traditional ethics and morality and pursued people’s inner freedom. However, the extreme resistance finally led to the decadence and hedonism.
Furthermore, Wilde’s homosexuality is reflected in the novel. There are many references from the ancient Greek mythology to describe Dorian’s appearance, such as Adonis, Narcissus and Antilles. Dorian not only fell in love with his own beauty like them, but was loved by Basil and Henry. Actually, the Victorian era saw an unprecedented emphasis on the moral code of society and this novel criticized the social reality which constrained people’s personalities.
This novel focused on a portrait which contains many meanings. It symbolizes the soul. Every crime Dorian committed left its mark on the picture, and the depravity of Dorian’s soul can be clearly seen from the increasing ugliness of the magic picture. Moreover, it is a symbol of conscience and morality. Every time Dorian thought of the picture, he was horrified. In short, the picture shows the contradiction between inner mind and appearance.
Overall, as a world literature classic of aestheticism and hedonism, The Picture of Dorian Gray not only is Wilde’s self-portrait, but also shows the constraints of morality and the distortion of human nature under capitalism in the 19th century. For the spiritual value of this book is enduring, don’t hesitate to read it!