“The Picture of Dorian Gray” Essay
Oscar Wilde’s literary works reflect the protest of an artist against social conditions in England at the end of the 19th century. He thought that art can’t survive under capitalism. It is the only sphere that really exists and worth being involved in. According to his ideology art is isolated from life and exists on its own. Life in this case only reflects art. He dreamed of escaping into the kingdom of beauty as a measure for everything. Themes of his works are quite realistic and reflect hard life of people in England.
Oscar Wilde’s “Dorian Gray” reflects his ideas on the situation in England in the 19th century. He shows his despise to bourgeoisie and its morality which is the main social evil. His only requirement is beauty. In the preface to “The picture of Dorian Gray” Oscar Wilde wrote:
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all (Wilde, 1984).
First of all Oscar Wilde saw the evils of life in England: social disorder had to be replaced by some other system. During Wilde’s times the aristocracy served capitalists. It was reflected in selfish, brutal and idle aristocrats in his novel. Works of Oscar Wilde give realistic picture of that society and reveals the evils of bourgeoisie. In this way “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is a masterpiece of world literature. The author shows spiritual life of a young man and touches many problems of contemporary life, such as morality, art and especially beauty. Oscar Wilde demonstrates different approaches to life on the example of Basil Hallward, Lord Henry Wotton and Dorian himself. Basil is a kind, generous and honest man who can’t imagine art without beauty. The bright appearance of Dorian inspires him to Lord Henry lives a life of a well-to-do British aristocrat. He is eloquent and witty, but at the same time heartless, cynical and immoral. He trusts neither friends nor lovers. Lord Henry doesn’t care about Dorian’s future; he is pleased with himself and gradually ruins Dorian’s life. He persuades him to “search for new sensations” in life before his beauty fades out. Lord Henry says: “Good resolutions are useless attempts to interfere with scientific laws”. It proves significance of science in England at those times. Lord Henry is an inveterate decadent and believes in power of scientific progress. Oscar Wilde however tries to raise esthetics and put it on the first place. At the end of the 19th century many people believed that science would help to get rid of all human misery. Lord Henry’s words prove that men of science were greatly admired. Scientists spread their ideas among people. But later people understood that scientific progress touched only upper classes and didn’t improve the welfare of common people, who lived in poverty and couldn’t escape from it.
Oscar Wilde contradicts with decadent theory. It reveals in the final scene of the book, when Dorian stabs his portrait with a knife and in such a way kills himself. Oscar Wilde shows the triumph of real beauty embodied in a piece of art. He writes that the artist can express everything.
The condition of England in the end of the 19th century is expressed in words of Prince of Paradox: “Philanthropic people lose all sense of humanity”. Philanthropy has never been able to prevent poverty for example. The phrase “the end of the century” had dual meaning. It also defined certain changes in people’s outlook and thoughts. Philanthropy became a “laughing stock”. People used to believe in positivism and thought that science would lead to human progress and development of new social order.
Oscar Wilde also touched the problem of gender inequality. The Duchess of Monmouth claims: “women rule the world, I assure you we can’t bear mediocrities. We women, as someone said, love with ears, just as you, men, love with your eyes, if you ever love at all”. English women began to fight for their rights in the time of growing class-consciousness. But in spite of their struggle gender inequality still existed in society. Workers began to throw upper classes into panic. Systems of labor and living conditions in poor districts were now thoroughly examined. Young women were among those social investigators. They left evidences of awful conditions in which working people were forced to live. Oscar Wilde is one of those activists who hates heartless and hypocritical bourgeoisie, which interfered with the development of human personality. During the crisis of bourgeois culture artists, poets and writers fought against spiritual degradation, expressing disperse in their creative work. Oscar Wilde protested against slavery and gender inequality in the 19th century. He disapproved poor life conditions and exploitation of people. Nowadays women have more rights and opportunities. But at that time most of women lived in conditions similar to slavery. Women had to obey men, and had no means for independent life. Girls had worse education than boys and were employed for lower pay. Even if women were dissatisfied with such life, they could do nothing about it. “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” is a story of gradual degradation of the main hero. He becomes cynical and immoral. Basil’s attempts to haul him out of degradation fail.
Dorian used to be “the most unspoilt creature in the whole world”. Now everything has changed. Only in the end of the story Dorian understands what he has done and tries to see his life in a new light. Lord Henry also understands his evil influence on the boy, and loses interest in him. Dorian wants to start a new life and become handsome again, but life brings unpredictable changes. In conclusion I’d like to say that this story gives a true view on contemporary society and analyzes it from different perspectives.