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The Picture of Dorian Gray - An Analysis

Written in a vivid and evocative language, the nineteenth century classic The Picture of Dorian Gray is not merely a quintessential Victorian novel of much appreciation, but an artistic masterpiece that, reflecting back the life and beliefs of the artist Oscar Wilde, reveals the very art of life and stirs awake the quiescent passions of the soul. The book affects and influences the reader such, for better or worse, that one might almost regard it as one of the greatest works of literature and philosophy of the Victorian Age.  The much-acclaimed work is but a reflection, or rather a greatly refined version of a legend dating back to 8 AD– the Greek myth of Narcissus– and dwells on the age-old warnings of the impassioned love of one’s beauty and youth (attributes one is bound to lose). 

The first few pages of the novel contain Lord Henry Wotton’s fervent and decadent speech, elaborating on the acrid truth of the evanescent nature of one’s beauty and youth, and hence their invaluable significance or the referral to youth as “the one thing in life worth having.” Being the strongest of carpe diem messages, and perhaps the sole most influential paragraph in the book, the speech holds the power to affect the reader much the same way as it affects Dorian Gray himself, hypnotizing the readers and ensconcing them in a trance as they are perhaps compelled to read and reread the paragraph and feel their minds awakening to the truth of life, their veins pulsing with a new fervor for life, and their hearts beating vehemently with a newfound passion to truly live and relish all that youth has to offer before it is inevitably lost to the rusted hands of time. The chapters that follow and the philosophical banters of Lord Henry and Dorian Gray open the readers’ eyes to the beauties and pleasures of the world, as if a dull and colorless portrait had just been repainted in vivid colors, drawing them to aestheticism.

Portraying his own way of living and looking at life through the lens of art, Wilde blurs the lines between art and reality several times in the novel that revolves around a piece of art, through Basil Hallward’s obsession with Dorian Gray for the influence he has on his art, Dorian Gray’s ardent love for Sybil Vane for the manner of the expression of her art which is lost upon a closer observation and hence leads to devastation and change for both the characters, and Lord Henry’s immoral belief of withholding ethical sympathies while creating the art of living, and succeeds in convincing readers of the threat that diving too deep into art will leave one drowned by it. 

The portrait of Dorian Gray (itself) is a symbol of man’s conscience, showing that a man’s soul and conscience are tied by an unbreakable knot which cannot be sundered without resulting in both’s demise. Dorian Gray could not destroy his painting without destroying himself, and while our outer beauty might stand as evidence for purity, our conscience bears the marks of the soul’s decadence which cannot be escaped. The Picture of Dorian Gray contains fascinating views on life, art, morality and youth and, while altering each reader differently, leaving them thinking about their own conscience and self, ultimately provides an awakening.  

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