Narcissism In The Picture Of Dorian Gray

1326 Words6 Pages
Marco van Rijn
Literature 4B
Dr. E.J. van Leeuwen
12 May 2015

Curating a Masterpiece: the Intricacies of Obsession in Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray

Art for art’s sake, a saying that arose in the early nineteenth century which stresses that art should not have a didactic or moral motive. Although Oscar Wilde was a representative of the Aesthetic Movement which emphasized aesthetics over message, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray still offers a semblance of a moral focused around obsession. The obsession is like a thread which binds and interweaves not only the wish to preserve youth and beauty and narcissism together, but also idolization, appropriation and treating people as if they were a piece of art themselves, which
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Rather, two other characters that sparked his narcissism are more to blame, namely the artist Basil Hallward and Lord Henry Wotton. It all begins when Basil shows the portrait he has painted of Dorian to him, because this is what initiates Dorian to become very self-conscious about his appearance: “When he saw it he drew back, and his cheeks flushed for a moment with pleasure. A look of joy came into his eyes, as if he had recognized himself for the first time … The sense of his own beauty came on him like a realisation” (Wilde 27). In this moment, Dorian is struck by the gravity of his own image. Before he dismissed the compliments made by both Basil and Lord Henry as mere niceties, but now he projects them at the portrait and understands why the compliments were given in the first place. By objectifying Dorian as a work of art and appropriating his looks on the canvas, Basil sparked Dorian’s narcissism. Dorian cannot help but feel forever captivated by his own beauty, much like he captivated Basil with it, and now dreads the temporality of beauty. His beauty will not remain forever for one day he shall grow “old, and horrible, and dreadful” (Wilde 27-28). Dorian is so distraught by this that he would do anything to preserve his youthful appearance and the portrait to bear the scars of time – a symbolic Faustian deal in which Dorian sells his soul to the portrait.…show more content…
As said earlier, through the act of appropriating Dorian’s image and therefore objectifying his youthful looks, Dorian mirrors this action once he lays his eyes on the painting. Completely enraptured by its beauty and worried about the future, he wishes that the painting would age instead of himself, which he realises has come true once he notices the changes in the portrait after the death of Sybil Vane. Sybil Vane was an object of infatuation and arguably an object of obsession for Dorian. Once he saw her perform on stage for the first time, he watched her performances on all of the subsequent nights until her final performance prior to her suicide. He professed his love for her and invited Basil and Lord Henry to join him during one of her performances, only to be shocked by how badly she acted that night. Heart-broken, he goes backstage and tells Sybil about his feelings about how she performed and admits that he can no longer see her now that he has seen how she could throw her craft away. The fact that it was her bad acting that caused Dorian’s heart to break suggests that he was never really in love with her as a person, but with her acting – her art. His feelings were aimed at the characters she performed on stage, and when she no longer provided this artful image, the spell was broken. Moreover, his reaction when he hears about how Sybil has killed herself
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