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Disruption in Child’s Moral Upbringing in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

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A disruption in a child’s moral upbringing can be partially originated by how they are treated by their parents, whether this is being brought up surrounded by a negative environment or without filial love. In The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) and The Phantom of the Opera (1910), both authors present their main characters engaging in criminal behavior due to disruptions in their moral upbringing. Wilde’s character, Dorian Gray, begins his moral demise through his jealousy of Basil Hallward’s portrait which makes him more attractive than he already is presented to appear, ultimately leading him to commit murder and deceit.

Leroux, alternatively, based his character on a true story about Erik, a facially deformed man who intends to reveal his talents by manipulating Christine Daaé, a woman who recognizes not only his talent but his kindness which is reserved only for her. Readers may interpret these two characters similarly due to their lack of moral upbringing, and the extent to which their actions and behavior have been affected by this disruption. Both Wilde and Leroux present these altered behaviors explicitly through the lack of connection with their parents. As mentioned in Chapter Three, Dorian’s mother Margaret caused controversy in her family by ‘eloping with a poor man of a lower class’, leading to her father killing her husband before she dies herself.

Wilde’s verb for Margaret’s actions implies a partially realistic attitude of a Victorian woman as Margaret had explicitly rebelled against being forced to marry a superior man, choosing whoever she liked without parental consent. As Greg Buswell (2014) states that ‘No matter how vile Dorian’s behavior…he remains ever youthful and beautiful, while the picture of him…bears every visible scar, line, and stain of his corrupt behavior’, his mother’s decision to marry a man of lower-class partially mirrors Dorian’s own controversy in sexuality, as both actions scandalize society and cause corruption in their positions within the high-class. Not only would the disturbing truth of his parents lead to a life of despair as an orphan, but his parents’ death also foreshadows Dorian’s scandalous life later on in the novel, as the discipline that an archetypical teenager would receive from their parents would not bother him, therefore leading him towards a corrupt life without fear of discipline.

Lord Kelso became Dorian’s guardian, who potentially placed a negative influence upon him with his quarrelsome behavior, especially as he previously planned to ‘insult’ Dorian’s father for marrying Margaret and increasing the tension between him and Dorian. Similarly, Erik grew up around a lack of appreciation from his birth, due to his parents being mortified with his deformed face as his father ‘never looked upon me’, as well as Erik’s mother refusing to kiss him, instead advising him to ‘cover [his] face’ with a mask. The mask can symbolize for his separation from society as his command to wear the mask could also support the ideal society that he was forced to live in, which would not have been supportive of his alienated appearance. This would have placed a large amount of psychological pain upon him as a child, as the realization that his own parents despised his face made him seem unworthy as their child.

Erik describes his mother as ‘poor’ and ‘wretched’ whilst revealing his feelings to Christine, accepting that his parents rejected him for his appearance, further implying that families during this time would be ashamed about raising an unattractive child. Because Erik partially grew up surrounded by a lack of affection from his parents and a society that stared at him in horror, his attitude towards other people changed for the negative, as Erik admitted ‘To be good, all I ever needed was to be loved for myself’. However, this could be considered ironic, as it is Erik's immoral behavior, that causes him to be hated, not his appearance. Despite his character personifying corruption and darkness, the book-reviewing blog Dead End Follies (2012) states that Erik’s ‘darkness is always longing for a little bit of light’. Therefore, he restricted himself from love, developing disbelief that anybody could love him, and acted tempestuously towards anyone who feared him, except for the only character who was willing to accept him: Christine Daaé. As parents are the most influential role models that a child needs, without their encouragement to adopt respectful behavior, Dorian and Erik are brought up with a lack of respect and honesty. If society accepted Margaret for her husband’s class and loved Erik for his personality, both characters could have been raised differently.

Linking to the subject of influential role models, the absence of Dorian and Erik’s parents affects the lack of moral upbringing implied in their criminal behavior. In a psychoanalytical view based on Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis (1917), a disruption in the breastfeeding stage after the death of Dorian’s mother, Margaret, would affect the emotional bond between Dorian and his mother. Furthermore, Lord Henry’s uncle describes Dorian as a ‘child born in pain’, implicating a lack of emotional love and security from Margaret due to her heartbreak and loneliness after his father’s murder, resulting in her death. Therefore, her despair would have provided Dorian with fright, resulting in becoming familiar with this emotion and therefore creating an anxious personality. For Erik, the reader could determine that he was likely never breastfed as ‘his ugliness filled his parents with horror and fear’, so he would develop an extreme case of oral fixation in order to seek the pleasure and comfort that his mother denied him during infancy, given that his looks would have deterred her from loving him. Therefore, Erik’s lack of understanding of love would have developed without a source of filial love. However, Susana Valdes (2016) argues that the absent relationship between Erik and his mother supports his obsessive behavior toward Christine’s love, as he ‘never received the love of his mother’ so it’s ‘easy to say that Erik’s obsession with Christine stems from that’. If our behavior is mainly shaped by the influence of the environment we’re surrounded by, we can determine that Dorian repeated the substandard influences of Lord Kelso, and Erik never found evidence that love could truly exist within his life.

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The relationships that Wilde and Leroux present between Dorian and Erik and other characters highlights their differences in personality, revealing their authoritative or rebellious characteristics. Because of the lack of guidance in his younger years, Dorian is presented as a retentive character through Lord Henry’s influence during their first meeting when his words had ‘touched some secret chord that had never been touched before’. This metaphor reveals the eventual dynamic characterization that Dorian provokes as Lord Henry’s speech becomes an eye-opener to Dorian, juxtaposing his manipulative attitude with the innocent influence of Basil Hallward as he tells Dorian to ‘turn [his] head a little more to the right…like a good boy’. As Dorian is first introduced to a greater insight into life by Lord Henry, this gives significant detail about Basil’s friendship with Dorian, which has resulted in his sensible behavior and lack of commitment towards criminality. Therefore, Lord Henry’s perspective concludes with Dorian becoming obsessed with the extraordinary beauty and youth in Basil’s portrait, before mindlessly declaring that he would give his soul to be young forever as the painting will be. Contrasting this, Erik developed an expulsive personality after experiencing his parents’ negative reactions towards his appearance, which affected his sensitivity and therefore led to him thinking he should be punished.

In the novel, Christine can be explicitly viewed as the character that Erik confides in the most, as her acceptance of his monster-like appearance amplifies the expected reaction that Erik wished for in his youth. Leroux uses a paradox when Christine states, ‘the black holes of his invisible eyes…had given me the full measure of his passion’, which is ambiguous as the connotations of his eyes imply an unknown existence inside his character — whether it may be his inner personality of kindness that his sadistic qualities have overcome or an empty space for a potential future for Erik. Both Dorian and Erik’s characters partially are unable to associate with the Oedipal Complex, as both characters would have lacked the emotional connection and love with their mother and jealousy of their father. Dorian had no reason to be an exception, and thus must have begun his life with an intense desire for his mother. This desire is no doubt further intensified by the death of his father and the consequent lack of emotional connection with his mother when she dies as well before he is even a year old, leaving his desires unfulfilled without a concluded decision. Because Dorian knew ‘he had got from her his beauty’, he views her in himself and thus becomes the desired object for his own mother. With his narcissistic personality, Dorian Gray necessarily seeks out self-pleasure with little regard for the reality of the world.

Comparably, Erik’s alienation from his family and society leads to an unresolved Oedipus Complex: he felt no love for his mother and had little to no attachment to her. However, some may argue that describing his ‘poor, wretched mother’ expresses a melancholic tone that blames himself for not being the son that she wanted or possibly emphasizes a sarcastic tone that supports his inability to believe in love. Furthermore, because of this father’s reaction toward his appearance, Erik would have already developed a hatred for him, so he had no parents to identify with. Therefore, he was incapable of moral internalization, leading to his catharsis through emotional outbursts and lack of remorse after he murders two innocent characters. As both characters are implied to have lacked real friendships and moral education, Dorian and Erik would have lacked the development of ethical skills and broadened knowledge alongside other children their age, as they would have searched for friendship with similar-aged male children. Dorian’s experience witnessing the attic after years affects him in the way that, ‘every moment of his lonely childhood came back to him as he looked around’, which allows the reader to sympathize with Dorian as he would have been isolated within a dark room with a lack of communication with others. The thought of keeping his ruined portrait among the surroundings of Dorian's childhood purity concerns him.

A regretful tone radiates from his character, potentially because of his attempts to hide a sinful object within a room where he wished to be seen as innocent like his mother. Yet, Dorian discovers his identification with Lord Henry, which had potentially been triggered by Basil’s morality leaving Dorian in a state of ennui, lacking excitement and purpose in his life until he speaks to Lord Henry. Contrasting this, after receiving emotional abuse from his parents, Erik eventually ‘ran away at an early age’, finding himself in an alternate environment with a guardian who accepted his appearance. His mask also symbolizes the facade he presents during his moments with Christine, especially as he insists, ‘You have no better nor more respectful friend in the world than me’, making him appear like he’s desperate for acceptance for being the opposite of who he really is. It could be viewed how receiving acceptance during a later point in his childhood led to Erik’s psyche being impacted by the normalization of murder, depicted through his employment as an assassin. Furthermore, being surrounded by an environment that alienates murder from being a crime potentially served as a starting point for Erik’s view of morality. Because of the lack of relationships in their childhood, Dorian and Erik, therefore, struggled to maintain appropriate romantic or sexual attractions towards others - in this case, Sibyl Vane and Christine Daaé. Given that Dorian is noticeably bisexual in the novel, he would have lived his childhood focused partially on Lord Kelso as a moral influence. However, there is a multitude of different reasons for developing sexuality rather than being surrounded by a single gender - one source suggests that parental mental illness or the presence of an alcohol problem could potentially affect this factor, which implies the harshness in a discipline that Dorian might have potentially suffered. Furthermore, these origins that Dorian was surrounded by during his childhood are, as suggested by Paulo Augusto Wagatsuma, ‘related to crime and sin, which means that symbolically Dorian would be condemned to an equally sinful life’.

Some readers may align Dorian’s obsessive behavior with Sibyl when witnessing her as a complete failure as a sign of Antisocial Personality Disorder. Compared to Basil and Lord Henry advising him to ‘drink to the beauty’ of Sibyl, Dorian expresses his inner feelings for her personality and not just her looks as he expresses how he loved her because she was ‘marvelous’ and ‘had genius and intellect’, which is a similar characteristic to how Erik believes love should be determined. However, for Erik, any reader could simply conclude that his overtly sexual desires develop from manipulating Christine and taking advantage of her talent by blackmailing her through the words of her father by claiming he’s her ‘Angel of Music’. Ironically, this could be an allusion to Lucifer, who was also given this title before his fall. Furthermore, as the novel shows Christine talking secretly with Erik as he tells her, “Your soul is a beautiful thing, my child”, it increases the disturbing intentions of Erik confiding in a female who appears to him as a younger woman. However, we could view this as Erik finding solace within a woman who acts similarly to himself. He had never interacted with children his age, yet he acts vulnerable as he and Christine ‘wept together’ after discussing his past, further supporting Erik’s discovery of a loving relationship that unstably develops his relationships with the opposite gender.

Erik unconsciously identified himself with Christine - as he understands his talent would not outperform his appearance but could share his talent through Christine, who was accepted publicly as a talented actress. The time-span difference between the two texts does not make an impact on the arguably similar events that inspired them. Both Wilde and Leroux presented their curiosities on critiques in their time period, reflecting in their main characters how their immoral behavior is presented through the treatment and corruption of the upper class and their attitudes towards the supernatural. The Victorian Era introduced a new wave of Gothic literature, focusing mainly on the supernatural apart from disturbing settings. As authors began publishing more supernatural novels, readers began believing in the concept of Spiritualism through literature, which increases the chances of readers learning the morals of participating in the evil which Dorian Gray and Phantom effectively present. However, for readers to fully understand the Gothic elements, their failed parental relationships would also have to appeal to Post-Modern readers. Furthermore, readers could interpret alternate endings or viewpoints that these novels might have presented if written in the Post-Modern era. Dorian’s mother would not have ‘made all the men frantic’ for marrying a man of the lower class, as our society is implied as against discrimination against classes. Therefore, Dorian would have been raised by both parents, avoiding an isolated childhood. It would have also been unwise to doubt that society would reject Erik, and unlikely for ‘nobody [to] dare speak to’ Erik whilst he was feared as the ‘Ghost’, as the discrimination towards talented and disadvantaged individuals has partially decreased. Therefore, Erik would have received the similar amount of respect that parents cherish their children with from his own, and possibly could gain a career without having to manipulate someone else. The question is not explicitly answered by both texts, but both provide enough evidence about Dorian and Erik’s parentage to conclude that Victorian ways of parenting impact their behaviors on a large scale. Both novels follow similar reasonings towards criminal behavior within Dorian and Erik, as both characters were raised without love and support. Surrounded by a negative environment that encouraged immoral individuality and harsh discipline, Wilde and Leroux explicitly stress the need for parental affection and guidance in order to refrain children from learning that murder and deceit are positive.

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Disruption in Child’s Moral Upbringing in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/disruption-in-childs-moral-upbringing-in-the-picture-of-dorian-gray-and-the-phantom-of-the-opera/
“Disruption in Child’s Moral Upbringing in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/disruption-in-childs-moral-upbringing-in-the-picture-of-dorian-gray-and-the-phantom-of-the-opera/
Disruption in Child’s Moral Upbringing in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/disruption-in-childs-moral-upbringing-in-the-picture-of-dorian-gray-and-the-phantom-of-the-opera/> [Accessed 1 Mar. 2024].
Disruption in Child’s Moral Upbringing in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Apr 21 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/disruption-in-childs-moral-upbringing-in-the-picture-of-dorian-gray-and-the-phantom-of-the-opera/
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