Sexuality And Art In The Picture Of Dorian Gray

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Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray displays an interesting perception about humanity, concerning the balance between the concepts such as beauty, and narcissism. It shows both the highest and the lowest of Victorian society. Oscar Wilde focuses more on the lowest and presents a pessimistic and critical view on the Victorian era, showing the worst parts on full display in his novel. It tackles the aspects of humanity that often leads to its downfall, taking vanity and their physical appearance before considering the quality of the life that they are living. It also deals with humanity’s innate sexual drive sexual identities. This especially true with Dorian Grey, who’s eventual downfall is due to his obsession with his aesthetics. Which was a massive issue In Victorian society as many considered beauty to bet the most important in life. The novel also brings attention to the importance of judging by looks and making impressions only through surface level knowledge. The characters sexual desires, identities and Dorian’s drive for endless pleasure also play a huge role in the story with seeing women as unworthy and homosexuality being frowned upon. All of these features come together to show a particular perspective about humanity, specifically in the Victorian era but still valid in current times, about how humanities greatest weakness is its vanity.

In history art has often been viewed as a major factor of portraying society’s roles and structure, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde states that “All art is quite useless” in the preface, however as the story goes on this statement is refuted. In this story art is what controls the life of Dorian Gray, to the extent of driving him morally insane and eventually ending his life. All of the events in Dorian Gray’s life happen due to the portrait in his possession. It is what allows him to be young and beautiful, and it is what seals his soul away. Inspiration for these ideas were taken from the real-world Victorian society, where the people valued art and aesthetics over everything, If you weren’t beautiful you were nothing. As Basil Halward said ‘An artist should create beautiful things but should put nothing of his own life into them. We live in an age when men treat art as if it were meant to be a form of autobiography. We have lost the abstract sense of beauty.’ Art in the Victorian society was created to be pleasing to the eye, if an art piece was pretty it was popular and had value, and the rich treated portraits as a way to express their lives, the Uniqueness of art is lost to vanity. This is how Dorian Gary also viewed life, He wanted to remain young and handsome forever, as that was all he valued, he went as far as to sell his soul to the devil to make this happen. This obsession with his self-image and aesthetics was what led to his misery and unhappiness, though he believed being young and beautiful forever would make him happy, it actually is what ruined his life, his vanity lead to his downfall.

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Because aesthetics were held at such high regards in Victorian society, most people made all of their judgements based solely upon a person’s looks. If you were dark skinned you were discriminated against, if a man appeared feminine, they were discriminated against, if someone looked even slightly like a witch, they were killed. This can be seen on full display in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian gets away with a lot of dastardly things, just because he looks too innocent to do anything bad or harmful. The downfall of every character who interacted with Dorian, whether it be Basil Hallward or Sibyl Vane, was a direct result of their confusion of appearance with morality. The novel suggests that people often mistake beautiful people for good people, which is seen all throughout the book with Dorian’s character. As stated, earlier Dorian Gray gets away with a lot of terrible things because people assume that because his outer beauty is nice his inner beauty is also the same. Societies innate aesthetic judgement and obsession with vanity is what let Dorian to get away with what he did.

Sexuality and sexual identity play a big, almost impossible to miss, role in the story. There are a lot of subtle homoeroticism in the text, in big part to Oscar Wilde’s own stories and events. Almost every male character portrays a certain degree of homosexuality, with Lord Henry being unhappy with his relationship and both him and Basil having feelings towards Dorian, with it being displayed as an artist’s admiration for an object of beauty. This combined with Dorian’s Hedonistic life style, perfectly mirrors the real worlds Victorian society, Dorian represents the posh and high class, living their lives for pleasure and with a sexual drive, Basil represents the homosexuality present and how it was perceived in that era. These characters are constructed this way as a demonstration of what Wilde may have personally gone through and shows the readers that, this playboy, hedonistic life style does not lead to a long life of pleasure and that actions like this will have major impacts on your life. In the story Dorian’s life ends miserably and suffered throughout his life in his journey for endless pleasure. Wilde is suggesting that following in a lifestyle like Dorian, it will end the same way. Wilde presents a critical view on the Victorian era where the obsession with pleasure and the overly sexual drive of the high-class population resulted in a life that was less than exceptional and anything, but they hoped to be.

Oscar Wilde as a writer can show a unique view on the Victorian era, with him having male lovers that had landed him in jail, he is able to give an accurate and critical view on Victorian society. Wilde is showing a perspective on humanity that portrays the downfall of humanity being related to its vanity and obsession with pleasure. Dorian as a character is the personification of Victorian and even the modern-day era. Wilde displays that the Victorian era’s obsession with pleasure, aesthetic judgment, with the rich and beautiful being perceived as being unable to be guilty, and valuing art and aesthetics over the quality of their life. Oscar Wilde displays a perspective of humanity that has been in contention for a long time, their obsession with beauty, judgement and drive for eternal pleasure, is one that will not end well, in fact Wilde specifically displays that a life led like this would end up going up in flames.



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Sexuality And Art In The Picture Of Dorian Gray. (2021, September 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 3, 2021, from
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