The Presence of Conscience and Influence in “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

In Oscar Wilde’s famous work The Picture of Dorian Gray, the overarching themes of aestheticism, influence, and societal decadence serve as important guides to the structure and meaning of the story as a whole. This alone definitely made the book both interesting and entertaining to me, but what seemed especially unique to me in the story were the characters and their respective developments over the course of the novel. I found that in The Picture of Dorian Gray, along with some of Wilde’s other works, there were no “all good” or “all bad” characters- there was no clear protagonist. Of course, some characters may have been more “moral” than others; consider the contrast between Basil and Dorian, but that’s not to say each character didn’t have his or her own weaknesses. In Dorian’s case, he still managed to appear as a sympathetic character despite his many questionable actions. In my opinion, the one thing that keeps Dorian a somewhat sympathetic character is the fact that he retains a conscience and sense of guilt throughout the novel, despite his obvious moral decay. Also important to note is that he is a victim of influence; most of his beliefs and actions stem from something he has read or heard. This becomes apparent in several scenes, one of the most prominent being after Dorian stabs Basil. The guilt catches up with him the next morning: “Gradually the events of the preceding night crept with silent blood-stained feet into his brain, and reconstructed themselves there with terrible distinctness…how horrible that was! Such hideous things were for the darkness, not for the day”. This shows that Dorian hasn’t completely transformed; he still faces emotional consequences for his actions. He has been strongly influenced by several factors, and although he is obviously trying to submerge himself completely into this hedonistic lifestyle, he still holds on to a little bit of his old self.

Both the painting and the infamous “yellow book” have profound influences over Dorian, thus leading to his moral corruption and eventual demise. Though Wilde seems to promote the idea of a common beauty and youth at first, it becomes clear that individualism both in art and personality is very important, and failure to adhere to this can lead to the ultimate destruction. -MG

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Filed under Week 5 Reviews: The Picture of Dorian Gray and Against Nature

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