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Beauty in The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Jill Ross

on 29 May 2010

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Transcript of Beauty in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Beauty and the Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde Beauty has been revered throughout history, but is this a good thing? How far should one go in pursuit of beauty, of perfection? Wilde proves through his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray that beauty cannot be equated to goodness and that the amoral pursuit of beauty is damning because beauty is insubstantial. Oscar Wilde shows through the characters Dorian and Basil, that beauty does not indicate moral integrity. Although Dorian is evil, he is so beautiful that people ignore it, like his friend Basil who, after he hears rumours of Dorian's evil deeds tells him; “…you, Dorian, with your pure, bright, innocent face, and your marvellous untroubled youth – I can’t believe anything against you” (Wilde, 172). Dorian's morals have been corroding for a very long time, but because his appearance doesn't reflect that he manages to avoid recrimination. Basil, on the other hand is plain, and not in the least envious of Dorian's beauty, and even says “Of course I [Basil] am not like him [Dorian] … Indeed I should be sorry to look like him” (9). He proves himself to be good, even after seeing Dorian's hideously deformed portrait, the window into his soul, telling Dorian that “It is never too late, Dorian … ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, yet I will make them as white as snow’?” (181) He is clearly wrong to have judged Dorian on his appearance as he himself cannot be accurately judged that way. Wilde uses Dorian’s corrupt beauty and Basil’s plain decency to illustrate that one’s beauty does not reflect one’s character and so beauty cannot be equated to goodness. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian is a young man who models for a painting done by the artist Basil. Basil's friend Lord Henry, tells him all about his beauty-worshiping philosophy and makes hims realise how lucky he is to be young. In front of his portrait, Dorian wishes that the portrait would age in his place.
He does not realise that his wish had come true until after an actress, Sibyl Vane, who he fell in love with, becomes unable to act out of love for him. He feels betrayed and breaks her heart cruelly, causing her to commit suicide and changing the portrait for the first time.
He becomes completely self-serving and evil, ruining many other's lives, including killing Basil after showing him the much-changed portrait. Throughout he worries that someone will discover his secret and comes to hate and resent the version of himself in the painting. He stabs the portrait, to escape his conscience, killing himself. Unlike Dorian, Sibyl Vane’s beauty is not misleading, even extending to her acting and Dorian pursues that beauty, losing his honour when he finds it to be insubstantial. Although Sibyl’s acting is beautiful, like all beauty, it fades. Her love for Dorian means that she no longer feels as though the characters she played were part of her, because for the first time she realises how fictional their love is and that “… I [Sibyl] shall never act well again” (100). The beauty Dorian saw in Sibyl’s acting disappeared because beauty is insubstantial. When Sibyl’s beauty fades, Dorian’s pursuit of her proves to be amoral as he breaks their engagement and leaves her cruelly, crying, “…you have killed my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir my curiosity” (102). Dorian had indicated to Sibyl that he would marry her, but when he sees that her beauty has faded, he breaks his word and their engagement, impugning his honour. in his artificial pursuit for beauty. When Dorian pursues Sibyl’s beauty he discovers that beauty fades, which causes him to behave amorally, breaking his word to her. Just as Dorian seeks beauty in Sibyl, he aspires to preserve it in himself, his pursuit of eternal beauty damning him for beauty is insubstantial. Dorian tries to preserve his beauty, and in doing traps his soul, wishing, “If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! … I would give my soul for that!” (34) His beauty still fades, just transferred to the portrait. He shows Basil the changed portrait; “’It is the face of my soul.’ … ‘It has the eyes of a devil’” (180). Basil's frightened reaction describes it justly, as a devil, as one of the damned. By trying to capture beauty, Dorian damns himself. Dorian’s beauty fades because of his desire to preserve it, wishing “…that his own beauty might be untarnished, and the face on the canvas bear the burden of his passions and his sins…” (106) Dorian is very protective of his secret; “He hated to be separated form the picture …and was also afraid that during his absence someone might gain access to the room…” (162) Until the day that he tires of its reminders of his sins; “He would kill this monstrous soul-life, and, without its hideous warnings, he would be at peace” (255). He dies, “...was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage” (256). By trying to live beautifully forever, he destroys his beauty.
By trying to preserve his own insubstantial beauty, Dorian gives up his soul and then destroys the beauty by his own hand in an effort to escape its recriminations, damning himself. Through his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde proves that beauty is not the same as integrity and that its immoral pursuit is pejorative because beauty untenable. He does this through Gray’s pursuit of Sibyl’s beauty and the subsequent fade and the break his morals, the difference between Basil and Dorian’s looks and characters, and the hideous corruption of Dorian when he vainly attempts to preserve his beauty. We can learn from Wilde's message, resist the media emphasis on physical beauty and youth and accept that beauty won’t last and simply enjoy it while it does. Works Cited Cardston. "Wilting Rose". June 2007. [Image. Web.] May 2010. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/cardston/583848662/>
Mercuralis. "Portrait of Dorain Gray". [Image. Web.] May 2010. <http://yakirgroup.com/art/>
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Penguin Books. 1994. [Print]. Jillian Ross
ENG 4Ub
Ms. Nouragas
May 2010
Module 19
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