The Picture of Dorian Gray: Corruption Through Aestheticism

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The Picture of Dorian Gray: Corruption Through Aestheticism

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is the story of moral corruption by the means of aestheticism. In the novel, the well meaning artist
Basil Hallward presets young Dorian Gray with a portrait of himself. After conversing with cynical Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian makes a wish which dreadfully affects his life forever. "If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that"
(Wilde 109). As it turns out, the devil that Dorian sells his soul to is Lord
Henry Wotton, who exists not only as something external to Dorian, but
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For Dorian, this is the ultimate evil act, the desire to rid himself of all moral sense. Having failed the attempt to escape through good actions, he decides to escape by committing the most terrible of crimes. Aestheticism has claimed its final victim. "Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks of me: Dorian Gray what I would like to be - in other ages, perhaps" (Hart-
Davis 352). Because of the endings he creates for these characters, Oscar Wilde proves that he does not envisions himself in the immoral characters of this story nor is he attempting to promote their lifestyles. Of all the characters whom he creates, he sees himself as Basil, the good artist who sacrifices himself to fight immorality. "It was his beauty that had ruined him, his beauty and the youth that he had prayed for" (Wilde 242). Contrary to Wilde's claim in the preface that,
"there is no such thing as a moral or immoral book" (vii), this novel has a deep and meaningful purpose. "The moral is that an absence of spirituality, of faith, of regard for human life, separates individuals like Wilde's Dorian Gray from humanity and makes monsters of them" (West 5831). W.H. Auden feels that the story is specifically structured to provide a moral. He compares the story to that of a fairy tale, complete with a princess, a wicked witch, and a fairy godmother.

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