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The Portrait of Dorian Gray Critical Analysis - Essay Example

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The Portrait of Dorian Gray critical analysis. The famous tale of the young man who has his portrait painted, only to find that it absorbs all the signs of ageing while his physical body remains always young and beautiful is one of the most memorable novels of the late nineteenth century…
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The Portrait of Dorian Gray Critical Analysis

Download file to see previous pages... The story can be read as a depiction of transgressive love between men, but it contains also some very deep messages about morality which are surprisingly close to the strict, Victorian values of the time. This paper explores the contention that The Portrait of Dorian Gray is a cautionary tale intended to uphold Victorian family values and warn against the extremes of any kind of passion. Judging by the title of the novel, Dorian Gray is the central character in the book. The artist Basil’s infatuation with him is based on Dorian’s physical appearance, since he is described as “a young man of extraordinary personal beauty” (DG, p. 2. He is likened to a Greek god – such as Adonis, or the mythical boy who fell in love with his reflection, Narcissus (DG, p. 3). It is no coincidence that he is likened to these pre-Christian icons. The artist, Basil, declares to Dorian “As I said to Harry, once, you are made to be worshipped” (DG, p. 130). Basil is an idealistic person, devoted to his work, and celebrated in wealthy circles because of his talents. In every respect he represents a classically educated, admirable person, who lives out his dreams of beauty in his painting activity. At the beginning of the novel Dorian is morally neutral, and he evidently has little experience of love relationships, because he struggles to understand Basil’s idolatrous kind of love, and wonders himself if he will ever experience such a feeling in his life. He remonstrates with Basil, urging him not to talk of worship since the two men are friends, but this shows that Dorian has not fully grasped what it means to be consumed with admiration for a person of great beauty. Basil unwittingly corrupts the innocent Dorian by turning his head with extreme flattery. Another possible role model for Dorian is the older, cynical figure of Lord Henry Wotton. This character deals with the restrictive morality of the time by reinterpreting it as something inferior, that holds back human beings from realizing their full potential. Lord Henry Wotton takes an opposite line of argument by undermining notions of deep love, and recommending a lifestyle that revels in promiscuous relationships. He maintains that “The people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom, or their lack of imagination” (DG, p. 55). This character corrupts Dorian by giving him immoral reading material and encouraging him to experiment with habits that break social conventions. Faced with these two conflicting views of the world, Dorian is perplexed, and so he sets out on a journey of discovery, planning to work out things for himself. His gravest sin is not the impulsive wish to remain youthfully beautiful, but it is desire for knowledge, the original sin of Judaeo-Christian tradition: “The more he knew, the more he desired to know. He had mad hungers that grew more ravenous as he fed them” (DG, p. 145). Following the aesthetic tastes of Basil and the pleasurable habits of Henry leads Dorian to confuse evil with beauty: “There were moments when he [Dorian] looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realise his conception of the beautiful” (DG, p. 165). Somehow Dorian blends the opposite examples of his friends into a monstrous combination that creates within him an irresolvable tension: “The unresolved conflicts in the plot of the novel reflect deep division in his own identity” ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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