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The Representation of a Particular Perspective about Humanity in The Picture of Dorian Gray

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The Picture of Dorian Gray, a gothic novel written in 1890 by Oscar Wilde, follows Dorian Gray, an archetype of Victorian upper-class society, through his slow degradation. A portrait is painted by Basil of Dorian which possesses paranormal powers to capture the sins he commits. Under Lord Henry’s influence, Dorian becomes corrupted by his own beauty. He yearns that he will eternally stay young while the portrait ages for him. As his portrait bears his sins, he embraces pleasure while ignoring any other morals. According to Freuds inner conflict approach, the mind is separated into three elements of personality: id, ego and superego. A lack of balance between the traits could lead to immoral attitudes which act as a mask or are chosen to be hidden. To have order in society everyone must wear a mask to conceal personal desires as we fear rejection. Oscar Wilde delves into this concept by portraying the dominant component of personality through the characterisation of Dorian, Basil and Sybil.

Dorian masks his id nature, which was magnified through Lord Henry’s influence, through his beauty. He allowed his pursuit for pleasure to dominate his life, ignoring his morals while his ‘beauty had been to him but a mask’ (210) metaphorically, as it portrayed a pure character. During the aesthetic movement the Victorian society was exploring the superficial importance of appearance and unconsciously ignoring one’s true nature. After Sybil’s first encounter with Dorian she told her mother “I love him” (60), yet her mother questioned back “you don’t even know his name” (60). This portrays how her love was based purely on aesthetic. His good looks were the only memorable trait about him which built Dorian’s desperation for eternity of youthfulness while under the influence of Lord Henry, as he pleads “If it were only the other way! If it were I who was always young, and the picture that was to grow old!” (28). The dialogue differs from his naïve, superego character presented earlier in the novel as he questions “what can it matter?” (24), when beauty is such a meaningless characteristic. The threat of mortality drives Dorian to be overwhelmed and ‘jealous’(28) that he will age unlike the painting which conveys his immoral attitudes which were manifested on the portrait. His despair as he states, “When I find that I am growing old, I shall kill myself'(28), foreshadows that he will go to such measures if he is not satisfied. Dorian had only known his mother through paintings which displayed her in disguise and had men fill in the role of his father such as cruel Kelso, the elderly, Basil, the painting and Lord Henry. Dorian is condemned to eternal desire, with no chance of true adulthood which left him vulnerable to be manipulated. He retained all the selfish amorality of a baby. This led to him acting on impulse without considering the rules of society and his psychological balances were destructed after Dorian was consumed by id.

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Basil masks his id where he finds pleasure in Dorian due to his obsessiveness, through the dominance of his ego nature. When Dorian began to reveal his narcissistic attitudes, Basil blamed Lord Henry as he claims ‘bitterly’, “This is your doing, Harry'(28). Basil had the moral strength, conveying his ego personality, to not be persuaded by Henry yet he is unable to deal with the change in Dorians hedonistic character. His ‘bitter’ (28) and serious tone shows his aggravation towards the influence of Lord Henry on Dorian. He admits ‘I want the Dorian Gray I used to paint” (105), when Dorian expressed no sign of remorse towards Sybil’s death, which further enhances the idea that he was infatuated over Dorian’s initial character and was opposed to his depravity. Lord Henry was shaping Dorian to a puppet to play with his mind tricks which left Basil “fearful” (106). He was incapable of coming to a personal concept of right and wrong due to his good-willed character. He encouraged Dorian to pray for his sins to be forgiven and was reluctant to intervene in Dorians manipulation in fear he would lose him, therefore choosing to see the best in him instead. As Basil’s desperation to stop Dorians cruel soul grew, he revealed his possessiveness as he states “I worshipped you. I grew jealous of everyone to whom you spoke. I wanted to have you all to myself” (110). He made it clear he was romantically attracted to Dorian through the homoerotic undertone when previously he feared that the painting would reveal the secret of his soul. He was against exhibiting his painting as he put too much of himself into it though it was his “best work” (6). Furthermore, his confession contrasts with his ego nature where he was expressive but in control of his feelings and emotions, masking his true feelings towards Dorian.

Sybil, a 17-year-old of the lower class, failed to mask her obsession of Dorian and therefore was rejected by society. She was tainted by the feeling of love which meant she was no longer innocent or wanted. She realized the fakeness of the emotions she portrays onstage through her affair with Dorian as she confesses “You had made me understand what love really is”. She had unconsciously masked her balanced personality through the romantic, id natured characters she portrays. There was “something of a child” about her which made her alluring as well as her passion for acting. She was the embodiment of beauty common to Dorians initial state of character. She admits “acting was the one reality of my life” which reinforces she didn’t have a life outside of the theatre which limited her exposure to the true world. She felt no hesitation to express her feelings as she had no experience of rejection and didn’t understand the importance of hiding one’s desires. Lord Henry states “The girl never really lived and so she never really died”, conveying that she was untouched by the world and therefore she didn’t experience enough for her death to be significant. Dorian was disillusioned when he discovered she has lost her talent in acting as he was entranced partly because of her acting. Sybil wasn’t intentionally hiding herself from him, Dorian just refused to see anything beyond what was on stage due to his superficiality on appearances. The desperation of her id nature became overwhelming, causing her to “kill herself for love” of Dorian.


Oscar wilde shows value in as Oscar Wilde states “Be yourself; everyone else is taken”. By the end of the Victorian era Freud expanded in detail his theory of the ‘unconscious’ maladaptive personality meaning their behaviours are significantly different feature.

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The Representation of a Particular Perspective about Humanity in The Picture of Dorian Gray. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from
“The Representation of a Particular Perspective about Humanity in The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
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