Once upon a time, there were a painter, a beautiful boy and a nobleman. The painter drew a portrait of the innocent boy, who, meanwhile, was enchanted by the artful talks of the aristocrat. Then the young fellow, afraid of the loss of youth, made a prayer: “If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old...I would give my soul for that!”(Wilde, 37) From then on, the portrait began to bear the changes in his countenance. However, the appearance became more and more disgusting due to the boy’s bad deeds: he abandoned his girlfriend, killed his friend, smoke opium...At last, intolerant of the ugliness and hideousness in the picture, Dorian stabbed at it, but instead of destroying it, he himself was killed.
This is what The Portrait of Dorian Gray talks about. The book was written by my favorite author, Oscar Wilde, who is renowned for his advocacy of aesthetics, his dramatic plots in plays and novels, and his sarcastic humor which is fully reflected in his play Lady Windermere’s Fan. This novella is his most famous work, exploring how evil things can affect our souls and advising us to behave ourselves in daily life through the depiction of the fall of a young man.
Young, pure and innocent, Dorian Gray obsessed Basil Hallward with his crisp gold hair, frank blue eyes and rosy scarlet lips. The painter worshiped Dorian so much that he drew a lot of pictures of him, and hoped that Dorian could remain pure and naive forever.
However, just as white paper was more inclined to be polluted by dark ink, this unsophisticated boy was brainwashed by Lord Henry’s flowery words about hedonism. He realized that life was so short and thus wished that the portrait got old for him, which surprisingly came true. This was his first change: he became afraid of the passage of time. For fear of loss of beauty and youth, he made the deal with Devil.
His second change happened when he abandoned his fiancee. Because of constant intercourse with Lord Henry, Dorian was instilled in more and more ideas that he had never heard of but sounded rather reasonable. For example, he came to a cheap theater, where a person of dignity would never come, to experience life. There he met Sibyl Vane, a beautiful actress he engaged later. He had thought that he would marry her, respect her and love her forever, but upon seeing her poor acting, he treated her so coldly and cruelly that the poor girl broke her heart.
When he came back home, he found that the portrait changed: there appeared a touch of cruelty in the mouth! It changed because of Dorian’s selfishness. He only cared about his own feeling, never considering himself guilty before he saw the change in the picture. Then he realized that the picture was connected to his soul and that every wrong doing of him would produce results on it. Horrified, he wrote a letter to plead for Sibyl’s forgiveness and made up his mind never visiting Lord Henry again. His action seemed to show his repentance; however, we should note that he wrote the letter just because he wanted to restore the picture to the original one, not out of love or responsibility for Sibyl. He was, in nature, selfish.
The picture did not give him the chance to compensate for what he had done. Sibyl committed suicide. Hearing the news, Dorian was sad at first, but later he was consoled by his intimate friend Lord Henry that he was not the one to blame. Soon he left the romance behind.
After Sibyl’s death, Dorian was overwhelmed by Lord Henry’s theories about Hedonism. He studied perfumes, music, jewels, embroideries and tapestries; he went merry-making under an assumed name and in disguise; he did whatever would satisfy his lusts. He regarded what he had done as cherishing every moment of life. Meanwhile, his portrait was changing, too: his bloated hands and wrinkles were the signs of sin or of age. However, Dorian did not care about it any longer. Rather, he was abnormally pleased that he could stay young.
And his third biggest change came when he killed his friend, Basil. This admirer of Dorian heard of some rumors, and he came to his abode to express his care and concern. Nevertheless, Dorian, determined not to conceal his secret, revealed the picture to him. The painter was astonished; he could not believe what had happened! He begged Dorian to pray for his sin, but the latter suddenly stabbed him to death. Then he saw blood dropped from his hand in the portrait, but he did not repent. He burned the painter’s possessions and threatened an old friend of him to dispose of the corpse. The friend soon committed suicide.
The last radical change befell him at the end of the book. Several years later, Sibyl’s brother returned to revenge on Dorian. However, this guy was shot dead mistakenly by Dorian’s friend, and instead of feeling guilty, Dorian was wild with joy for becoming safe. Then he decided not to ruin his new lover, Hetty. He thought it was a good deed, wondering whether the portrait turned a little more good-looking because of this. To his great disappointment, it looked still awful, as if mocking at his stupidity and daydream. Driven by indignation, he destroyed the portrait with the same knife that killed Basil. However, who could kill his own soul without injuring himself? This time, the one who died was Dorian, with the portrait as gorgeous as it had been first drawn, and the story came to and end.
What led to Dorian’s degeneration? On the surface, Lord Henry seemed to answer for it. It was his nonsense, which even he himself did not believe, that exerted bad influence on the boy. In fact, Dorian was more of a subject-matter of science than his friend. He wanted to see how words could affect one’s thoughts, and to some degree, he succeeded, for Dorian gave up all his virtues. In essential, Henry was only the spark that drew forth the evil side of Dorian. Without him, there had also been possibility of Dorian’s corruption. It was the ruthless society that was the primary cause.
I have read somewhere that Lord Henry, Dorian, Basil can be understood respectively as Id, Ego and Superego: Lord Henry represents those who can not restrain his instincts and lusts, Basil stand for the saints, and Dorian struggles between them. To our regret, under Wilde’s pen, Dorian was inevitably dominated by Id. Maybe in Wilde’s time, the society was so corrupt that no one could stay righteous alone, for those good and honest were either dead or turning pretentious in his book.
One of the Chinese greatest writers, Lu Xun, said before: “Tragedy is process of destroying beautiful things.” This saying can apply to this novella. Dorian Gray, once beautiful, pure, and innocent, was becoming more and more ugly, evil and hypocritical. In fact, we can also find ourselves in Dorian Gray: in our childhood, we are naive and carefree; as we grow up, we accept, willingly or not, the unwritten rules of the society and become sophisticated. Maybe we have never done anything bad, but are we now what we wanted to become in childhood? Dare we insist on justice when something unfair happens? Have we done anything against our will? The fall of Dorian Gray, in nature, is the loss of conscience.