At a young age, many people can be influenced to make poor decisions. Some of these can haunt them for the rest of their lives, while most mistakes are less severe. Oscar Wilde makes an example of Dorian Gray by allowing him to make the ultimate sacrifice-his soul. Although influenced by others, Dorian makes his own choices. Will he ever come to regret the life altering choice he has made?
In the beginning of the novel, Dorian Gray is depicted as an attractive young man with a magnetic personality which causes people to want to trust him. Dorian Gray could be considered innocent simply because he has yet to corrupt or harm others. It is not until he is constantly praised by Basil and convinced by Lord Henry Wotton that youth is the one and only important thing in life that he considers the things that tempt his soul. Perhaps Lord Henry had merely told Dorian Gray what he already knew, or would soon find out on his own about himself. In any case, hearing about “the great secrets of life” sounds alluring to a young person.
Lord Henry Wotton convinces Dorian Gray that youth is the only thing worth having. Neither Lord Henry nor Dorian Gray ever consider that there might be a perfectly logical explanation for why people age or what it might cost a person to reverse the natural process. Dorian Gray is perfectly willing to trade his soul for beauty, despite the fact that he misunderstands the true meaning of both. The fact that one soul is able to be traded or would be asked to be traded for any mere consideration of mortal pleasures is what makes the both the temptation and the act itself evil. Dorian Gray believes he finds his love match in Sybil Vane because of her beauty and artistry, the two things he values most in the world.
What more could Dorian Gray ask for than a beautiful girl who conveys beauty of art through her acting? But through Dorian, Sybil Vane comes to believe that she no longer needs the stage. She tells him, “You taught me what reality really is. You brought me something higher, something of which all art is but a reflection.” But, if art and beauty are mere reflection, then Dorian sacrificing his soul for his outward appearance in the name of aesthetics has all been a lie. In fact, when he gave his soul for the painting in his attic, his outer appearance grew more and more beautiful while his soul became as hideous as the reflection in the painting. Had Sybil’s philosophy involving art and beauty really disappointed Dorian Gray, or did he come to the realization that he had ruined his own life through vanity?
Even after his encounter with Sybil Vane and her untimely death, Dorian Gray cannot admit that he was wrong to tempt fate. He thinks, “And, yet, who, that, knew anything about life, would surrender the chance of remaining always young, however fantastic that chance might be, or with what fateful consequences it might be fraught?” People may not know everything about life, but can still suspect some greater purpose leading them down life’s path. Dorian Gray is still to ignorant to realize that aging leads to wisdom and youth is a time for making mistakes.
Instead of learning from his mistakes and moving on, Dorian Gray spends his time trying to accumulate material possessions. Slowly he begins to see what his choice has done to his existence. He reflects, “As he investigated the subject-and he always had an extraordinary faculty of becoming absolutely absorbed for the moment in whatever he took up-he was almost saddened by the reflection eventually decay, but Dorian Gray is no longer similar to anyone else. He must live with the fact that he has made this decision to exchange aging and goodness for good looks. The problem is he does seem to be regretful.
He was young and influenced by others when he made this mistake. He will go on to make many, many more. The reader searches the text from beginning to the end trying to find; will there remain any remnants of humanity in Dorian which will lead him to seek forgiveness for his actions? Would he be forgiven if he did repent? Does he deserve forgiveness?
I don’t see Dorian Gray as the repentant type, he had years to get back his old life but choose the selfish path in order to stay young and radiant looking. Wilde’s use of the mirror to give the body what it may not otherwise have in return for something sinister is similar to Goethe, Marlowe, and Shelley implying a “pact with the devil,” certain type of forbidden knowledge than humans have the ability to possesses but should not.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
For more information: themes from the novel~http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aestheticism
Victorian art http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/mar/26/aestheticism-exhibition-victoria-albert-museum
also by Wilde: The Ballad of Reading Goal (written while he was in prison) and De Profundis, a long and tragic love letter
about the author: http://www.cmgww.com/historic/wilde/