Critical Analysis of The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray: Analysis

Gothic Horror and Themes

  • The novel is analyzed as a Gothic horror tale, featuring elements of supernatural dread and moral decay.
  • It explores the theme of the ‘double,’ where Dorian’s outward appearance contrasts sharply with his corrupted soul.
  • Dorian’s pact with his portrait echoes the Faustian motif of selling one’s soul for eternal youth, akin to the German legend of Faust.
  • The discovery of Dorian’s grotesque corpse at the end parallels the shocking reveal in Robert Louis Stevenson’s "Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde."

Aestheticism and Decadence

  • Oscar Wilde embeds the novel with late nineteenth-century aestheticism and decadence.
  • Lord Henry Wotton serves as the voice of the aesthetic movement, advocating for new sensations and pleasure over traditional morality.
  • Wilde’s preface emphasizes the novel’s art for art’s sake philosophy, arguing that all art is fundamentally useless in changing the world.

Victorian Context and Literary Style

  • Wilde’s narrative sharply contrasts with earlier Victorian realism, typified by authors like Elizabeth Gaskell.
  • The novel critiques mid-century sentimentalism, epitomized by Dickens, in favor of a more detached and ironic storytelling approach.
  • Despite Wilde’s assertion of amorality in literature, "The Picture of Dorian Gray" serves as a moral cautionary tale.

Surface and Appearance

  • The novel revolves around surfaces and appearances, with characters like Lord Henry and Dorian prioritizing external beauty over inner depth.
  • Dorian’s obsession with his portrait symbolizes his vanity and superficiality, leading to his tragic downfall.
  • The relationship with Sibyl Vane highlights the novel’s critique of shallow love and the pursuit of fleeting sensations.
  • Reference to the mythological Sibyl underscores the theme of superficiality versus eternal consequences.

Consequences of Eternal Youth

  • Dorian’s bargain for eternal youth strips him of a soul, condemning him to a life devoid of moral growth and fulfillment.
  • His relentless pursuit of new experiences and pleasures ultimately leads to self-destruction.
  • The novel’s conclusion reflects Dorian’s inability to escape his true self, as represented by his portrait.
Study Guide

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