Virtue and vice, is it natural born within one’s soul or it has to be developed by the influence of outside factors? The novel titled The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde portrays us how a pure soul of an Englishman deteriorates into a wicked evil character yet still hidden behind a beautiful innocent face. The Wilde’s piece of art shows the readers how the virtue, vice, and art are related to each other by bringing forward the philosophy of practicing hedonism and aestheticism in life throughout the characters in the novel.
According to the English Oxford Dictionary, hedonism is defined as the doctrine or theory of ethics in which pleasure is regarded as the chief good, or the proper end of action. Meanwhile, aestheticism is defined as the quality of being aesthetic; the pursuit of, or attractive to the sense, especially opposed to an ethically or rationally based outlook. Through his dangerous piece of art, Wilde promotes the values of vice and virtue through the characters of Dorian Gray and Lord Henry Wotton where Lord Henry tries to influence Dorian Gray with his life philosophy of hedonism and aestheticism since their first meeting. In the earlier chapter of the book, Lord Henry amused Dorian by his introduction speech about his life principle. He insisted to meet Dorian Gray although Basil Hallward felt reluctant to do so. For Basil, Dorian was a perfect pure subject to be drawn on a canvas and he did not want him to be spoiled with the Lord Henry’s cynicism principles.
However, Dorian seemd to be captivated by his philosophy of life. While they strolling in the garden during the break, Lord Henry took this chance to influence Dorian to live his life to the fullest while he is still a youth. During the upper-class gathering at Lord Henry’s aunt, Lady Agatha’s house, he once again tried to promote the virtue of practicing hedonism in life while mocking his aunt who was a philanthropic woman. Everyone who was joining the dine was horrified with the idea except Dorian who was fascinated with Lord Henry’s speech. This showed that Dorian’s mind was already opened to the philosophy introduced by Lord Henry.
On the other hand, Wilde also emphasized the boundaries between vice and virtue through the art of romanticism; it was when someone was experiencing the emotion of romantic deeply in love. After his first meeting with Lord Henry, he came back to meet him. He was so excited telling him that he was falling in love with Sibyl Vine, a theater actress. Then, Dorian and Sibyl were engaged to be married. However, Dorian broke off their engagement after he was offended by her terrible performance. The first tragic event happened in Dorian’s life where Sibyl committed suicide due to the frustration of her broken engagement. From this pathetic love story, the readers know that he did not truly fall in love with Sibyl like what he stated “... Why should I not love her? Harry, I do love her. She is everything to me in life. Night after night I go to see her play…” (Page 45).
However, it was just his wild desire to express his virtue of romanticism in order to know everything about life as taught by Lord Henry. Because he was too indulge with Lord Henry's aphorisms, he was being egoistic and felt that Sibyl’s death was not his fault and denied all of the guilt feelings. After Sibyl’s death, he found out the portrait changed and hypocritically smirk at him. Wilde successfully illustrated the human’s art could influence one’s personality and made it in confusion between vice and virtue. He brought forward on how Dorian was influenced by a yellow poisonous book that was given by Lord Henry.
The book was about a young Parisian who spent his life trying to realize in the nineteenth century all the passions and modes of thought that belonged to every century except his own (page 107). Despite his denial about liking the book, he became fascinated and continued to read it chapter by chapter until the end. For years, he had remained under the influence of the book. He also was being illusioned for interpreting the character of the book is similar to him. “And, indeed, the whole book seemed to him to contain the story of his own life, written before he had lived it”(page 108). Thus, due to this psychological effect, one’s character could be guided by the character of the book. For example, one’s behavior could possibly mimic the character’s vice or virtue. Dorian’s inner monstrosity was revealed again through the most tragic event when he killed Basil after Basil begged Dorian to repent for all of his mistakes all this time. Dorian could not bare anymore when Basil reminded his sins one by one. His hatred towards Basil grown even more after Basil put blames on the portrait. He was like in possessed at the moment when he stabbed Basil. “I worshipped you too much. I am punished for it. You worshipped yourself too much. We are both punished.” (Page 133). Basil’s words showed that he also blamed himself for drawing the portrait. If the portrait did not exist, the wicked evil Dorian would not be born. What goes around comes around.
Regardless of the vice behavior portrayed by the main character, Wilde finally pointed out the downfall of one’s evil character when Dorian was trapped in the moment of crisis between to amend his life or stay living as what he was. He knew that his portrait became more hideous as much as his sins that grow worse over years. “Through vanity, he had spared her. In hypocrisy, he had worn the mask of goodness. For curiosity's sake, he had tried the denial of self. He recognized that know.” (Page 187). He thought by destroying the painter’s work, he could free himself from the monstrous soul and he would live in peace because the portrait was the only evidence left of his sins. Thus, he decided not to confess and repent his sins, but just to move on to be a new him.
Contrastly, his action by stabbing the portrait had actually killed himself. This event was illustrated by Wilde in the element of gothic-horror; by killing it, he kills himself. In summary, the vice and virtue could be the nature of a person and affected by the nurture. The character of Dorian Gray portrayed us how nature and nurture worked on his behavior. He came from a corrupted family, but the strong influence from the obsession of the value of aestheticism and hedonism had corrupted his pure soul. The power of aestheticism value could make people obsessed towards beauty more than virtue. Indeed the virtue of hedonism that was treasured a lot could make people lacked self-restraint in seeking the self-pleasure. Furthermore, the influence of one person could have on another play an important role in developing one’s behavior and moral code. This can be shown through Lord Henry’s powerful brilliant speech that influenced Dorian life’s philosophy and Dorian’s beauty that can seduce whoever was associated with.