According to the nurture theory of the evolution of human behavior, when a child is first brought into the world it has no basis or idea of how to perceive things. The child is pure and innocent. It is naive to its surroundings, depending on the guidance of those around it to show it the way. When a child is born, most are accompanied by loving nurses, doctors, and parents. The moment this child encounters these other beings, the influences upon the individual begins.
Their parents and peers influence their personas and ultimately who they become. They instill in them the values and morals necessary to survive in society. They teach them self-control, cleanliness, repression of anger and respect for elders and property. It is these morals and values which society has come to accept as standards.
However, if a person is taught morals and values that stray from these standards they are considered to be corrupt. Society has developed methods of alleviating this unwanted behavior. In the tamest cases, people are ostracized and shun in society due to their lack of conformity to societies principles. Others endure strict penalties such as paying fines or jail time. But in extreme cases the penalty is death. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde uses the influence of Lord Henry Wotton as well as the portrait of Dorian Gray to represent this corruption and its consequences.
Wilde emphasizes Dorian’s beauty and youth in order to signify his innocent nature. Dorian is described as handsome, good looking, and beautiful throughout the novel. Lord Henry even calls Dorian an Adonis (in Greek mythology a youth who fell in love with his own image reflected in water), when he first views his portrait. Along with these youthful good looks comes the assumption that he is incapable of wronging others, also known as the halo-effect. This is revealed by Wilde, who sates that Dorian possesses “something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candor of youth was there, as well as youth’s passionate purity.
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One felt that he had kept himself unspotted form the world.” (11-12; ch. 2).
This purity and innocence allows the audience to perceive Dorian as a “blank slate” or a “human canvas.” Although he is in fact in his late twenties, he is still portrayed as na ” ive and innocent. He is said to have a “simple and beautiful nature” (10; ch. 1), a comment that would be used today to describe a young child. The “human canvas” motif is first portrayed to the audience through Basil Hall ward, an artist who becomes infatuated with Dorian.
Basil remarks “He is all art to me now” and “Dorian Gray is to me simply a motive in art” (7-8; ch 1), suggesting that Dorian should be seen as a work of art. Lord Henry also remarks he “looks as if he was made out of ivory and rose-leaves.” These statements further the notion that Dorian is open for an artist’s impressions, a position assumed by Lord Henry Wotton. Lord Henry’s presence around Dorian is in essence the beginning of his corruption. Basil attempted to deter Lord Henry claiming that he would “spoil him” and pleaded with Lord Henry saying, “don’t influence him. Your influence would be bad” (10; ch. 1).
And later remarks “something has changed in you completely… you talk as if you had no heart, no pity in you. Its all Harry’s [Lord Henry] influence. I see that.” (79; ch 9) Lord Henry implants outrageous ideas such as “when your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to content yourself with those mean triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats” (16; ch 2) and .”.. youth is the one thing worth having” (34; ch. 4).
... at three points in Dorian Gray's life, but his influence is great. Lord Henry Wotten: Lord Henry is the radical aesthete. He lives out all of the ... Hallward earnestly enjoins Lord Henry to leave Dorian Gray alone, not to interfere with him, not to exert his influence on the youth. Lord Henry ignores Basil ...
He emphasizes the power of youth and beauty even more by saying “It has its divine power of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it.” (16; ch. 2).
These statements are basically saying your life has no meaning once you no longer have your youth and beauty and that it is these characteristics that truly give one power. It is this ideology that causes Dorian to place beauty and youth above everything else.
He remarks of the “common, rough people, with their coarse faces and brutal gestures” while in the theater watching Sybil Vane, acting as if they were beneath him due to their unflattering exterior. Dorian becomes infatuated with Sybil’s good looks and her ability to control her audience making them ” weep and laugh as she wills them to do” (59; ch. 7).
Ironically, it is this influence on those around her that makes her the most appealing to Dorian, much like Lord Henrys ability to influence Dorian. Sibyl’s love for Dorian renders her incapable of acting with the passion as to influence her audience, therefore making her no longer appealing to Dorian and sending him into a rage. Sibyl shortly after kills herself sending Dorian into a state of guilt.
This however is short-lived. Lord Henry tells Dorian that if he married her she would have made his life “wretched.” Also saying, “the only way a woman can ever reform a man is by boring him so completely that he loses all possible interest in life” (73; ch. 8).
He also makes a horrible situation seem almost praiseworthy saying he wishes he .”.. had such an experience.
It would have made me in love with love for the rest of my life” (74; ch. 8).
This desensitizing only further removes Dorian from the norms of society. Lord Henry also gives Dorian a book that is meant to occupy Dorian after this traumatic event. This book becomes Dorian’s Bible. Dorian felt that the book seemed to “contain the story of his own life, written before he had lived it.” (93; ch.
The stories that make up the book are of a horrid nature. An example is “Flip po, Duke of Milan, who slew his wife, and painted her lips with a scarlet poison that her lover might suck death from the dead thing he fondled” (106; ch. 11).
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Dorian’s ability to relate to these stories and think of them premonitions of events in his life yet to occur shows how decayed his sense of reality has become. The one true reality that Dorian must face is his portrait.
What was meant to be a beautiful work of art turns into a mirror of Dorian’s soul. At times, Dorian becomes infatuated with the reality that only his portrait bears the scars of his evil doing not himself. He “grew more enamoured of his own beauty, more and more interested in the corruption of his own soul… He would place his white hands beside the coarse bloated hands of the picture, and smile.
He mocked the misshapen body and the failing limbs” (94; ch. 11).
Here it seems, he enjoys the fact that he is suffering no physical consequence for his actions and therefore pokes fun at what is occurring to the painting. Since he still has his beauty and youth, the two qualities that are most precious to him, he feels that the wrongdoings he has taken part in, causing the death of Sibyl Vane, Basil, and James Vane, have no real consequence.
But, Dorian is forced to hide the portrait fearing that if someone saw it they would see the “hideous corruption of his soul” (89; ch. 10).
The secret of the portrait overwhelms Dorian. For example, as Mr. Hubbard was moving the portrait for Dorian into the attic, Dorian began sensing that he may see the painting and “felt ready to leap upon him and fling him to the ground if he dared to lift the gorgeous hanging that concealed the secret of his life” (90; ch. 10).
It is this fear that keeps him constantly running back to check the portrait making sure it has been undisturbed, inevitably making him a prisoner in his own house. When this becomes too much to endure Dorian stabs the portrait with the same knife he killed Basil in hopes of destroying the portrait and ultimately himself. Dorian’s primary influence is Lord Henry. Lord Henry’s morals and values are contrast heavily to those accepted in society. He views people and the actions that occur to them as forms of art. Therefore their feelings and emotions are given no substance.
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They are merely images in a forever changing canvas. He feels that beauty and youth are the most important facets of life and passes this ideology onto Dorian. It is this superficial logic that causes Dorian to be heartless to his actions toward others, which in essence starts his downward spiral into a life of corruption. The portrait further signifies the deterioration and corruption of an innocent, moral human being. Each time Dorian commits an act that is deemed immoral by society; the image of him in the portrait begins growing older and uglier showing the scars of his evil doing. The portrait acts as not only as a mirror of Dorian’s soul, but as a societal ideal.
It represents what society perceives as moral and ethical behavior, therefore giving substance and value to the heinous crimes that Dorian has committed. When Dorian’s actions stray or contrast to what is deemed acceptable in society the portrait punishes Dorian by taking away the two qualities which Dorian holds dearest to him, youth and beauty, thus making him aware of his unscrupulous actions and in the end condemning him to death. Society holds within itself morals and values that must be adhered to. It is these guidelines that attempt to keep our surroundings in safe and prosperous conditions.
Not conforming to these principles has strict repercussions, in some cases, such as Dorian Grays, death… Corruption: punishable by death.