“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic. Worlds had to be in travail, that the meanest flower might blow.”

‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, by Oscar Wilde is a gothic philosophical novel which tells the cautionary tale of the young, rich and beautiful Dorian Gray, who after artist Basil paints, becomes induced with the fear of aging from Lord Henry, who, by explaining that he will eventually grow old and withered, negatively influences Dorian. This causes Dorian to make the selfish decision to pledge his soul and everything he has, to have the painting age instead of him, thus messing with the nature of humanity and sparking a chain of horrible events such as betrayal, corruption and obstruction of the lives of others. I believe the gothic protagonist of this story, Dorian Gray, holds the traits of a gothic protagonist, one of the elements of a gothic novel, and I will be explaining why in this report.

There are six traits of a gothic protagonist, all of which apply to Dorian Gray. I will, however, be explaining how the protagonist, Dorian Gray meets two of these traits, which are to have distinct contrasting qualities and to be surrounded by negative foreshadowing devices and I will explain how the author has effectively applied these traits to Dorian, why in my opinion these traits make Dorian a dis likable and ill-fated, though interesting character. The first trait displayed by Dorian Gray is having distinct contrasting qualities (meaning the character holds one trait and another which is the complete opposite). Dorian is very beautiful and many look up to him, especially Basil who develops an obsession with this powerful and ideal representation of a man. Though he is portrayed by others as being the perfect human being, in reality he is revealed to be very foolish and immoral with his decisions throughout the novel and ultimately makes ignorant and mindless decisions showing two contrasting qualities, the beauty and superiority that others characterize him as and the truly ugly, selfish and insecure reality which lies beneath his exterior. Basil’s admiration is made clear as he projects his devotion to Dorian uttering “Dorian, from the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me. I was dominated, soul, brain, and power, by you… I worshiped you. ” Basil believes Dorian has dominance and a powerful positive influence over others, showing great intellect and beauty which he cannot be happy without. However, this contrasts with the opposing traits which he is quickly revealed to hold (through the painting’s projection of his soul and through his selfish acts), unbeknownst to others who are only conscious of how he presents his beautiful exterior and personality. This ugliness is shown from the beginning when he enchants the curse which brings destruction to his lives of others and himself, “How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June… If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young and the picture to always grow old! For that – 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!”. This utterance of such selfish words shows the true self centered and insecure nature of Dorian in that he would rather sacrifice the lives of all who reside close to him, as well as his soul, in order to obtain eternal youth. I believe that this contrast in qualities that only the reader can truly recognize makes the reader have a negative perspective on Dorian and I personally am angered at the true ugliness of Dorian that others are oblivious to. Wilde cleverly chooses to have certain characters such as Henry, Basil and Sybil Vane hyperbolic descriptions of Dorian to really emphasize that others see him as this powerfully beautiful figure. Wilde allows the reader to develop a disliking of Dorian through his ignorant decisions and carelessness of his obstruction of other’s lives but at the same time become interested and invested in the protagonist’s inner conflict. This is shown after Dorian murders Basil when he instructs to Alan “What you have got to do is to destroy the thing that is upstairs—to destroy it so that not a vestige of it will be left…You, Alan, you must change him, and everything that belongs to him, into a handful of ashes that I may scatter in the air.” Dorian has now lost all poise and order of his life, now cracking under pressure over the strain of maintaining his secret and becomes careless for all but himself. He calls his once dear friend who cared and admired him immensely a ‘thing’ and speaks of him as a mere nuisance which must be rid of, not showing any remorse for his decision and blames Basil for painting his cursed portrait. This decision to murder Basil made me very angry yet curious as to why Dorian has become so despicable and this invested me into the story and made me more interested in the character. This action now clarifies his true vile nature shown by the painting which conflicts with how others perceive him and how he portrays himself.

Another trait displayed by Dorian is being surrounded by negative foreshadowing devices (literary devices are used to foretell that something bad will occur later on in the story). There are many instances which foreshadow that Dorian will experience negative repercussions for his selfish wish, these instances are typically used to foretell a future death. One instance is whilst Sybil Vane is performing as her many Shakespearean characters on stage most of which end up dying before the curtains close, these include such heroines as Desdemona (in Othello she is murdered by her husband) and Cordelia (in King Lear she is hung and separated from her lover). However the character which she plays when Dorian first sees her is Juliet from Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. Wilde effectively alludes to the well-known play in order to foreshadow that Dorian and Sybil’s relationship will be short lived and that it would end in tragedy just like the relationship between Romeo and Juliet. Ultimately the foretelling passage “One evening she is Rosalind, and the next evening she is Imogen. I have seen her die in the gloom of an Italian tomb, sucking the poison from her lover’s lips…She has been innocent, and the black hands of jealousy have crushed her reedlike throat” becomes true, Sybil committing suicide after losing Dorian just like the many heroines of Shakespeare’s tragedies she played having died after losing the love of a man. I think that the death of Sybil is directly compared to the numerous deaths of Shakespeare’s heroines, one particularly similar character portrayed by Sybil being Ophelia, as in Hamlet she kills herself due to Hamlet’s impelling demands, which is parallels to the Dorian demanding a great performance and after not receiving this, despises and leaves her which causes her to kill herself. Another instance of foreshadowing occurs as the picture has been causing conflict between Henry and Dorian, Basil was about to tear the painting when “…with a stifled sob the lad leaped from the couch, and, rushing over to Hallward, tore the knife out of his hand, and flung it to the end of the studio. “Don’t, Basil, don’t!” he cried. “It would be murder!” This foreshadows how Basil was murdered due to the painting’s evil influence over Dorian and how Dorian dies by stabbing the painting. Dorian also begins to sense an omen and believes that he can feel death’s presence which foreshadows that he will eventually die before the novel ends. Wilde develops a tense and unnerving tone due to the foreshadowing of Dorian’s death towards the end of the novel and as a result I personally was on the edge of my seat waiting for the expected outcome to occur.

I admire that Oscar Wilde effectively applies the gothic protagonist element to the narrator, as well as effectively use other gothic fiction elements such as tone, mood and the possible supernatural presence of this ‘aging portrait’ to give the reader an intense discomfort. I believe that by having Dorian being both beautiful and ugly and by being surrounded by negative foreshadowing devices, the character is effectively portrayed as being dis-likable, interesting and ill fated.




Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Lucas,

    I want to see you move away from language like “descriptor” when describing the traits of a gothic protagonist. Our class has a set of descriptors that we look for but they are not the be all and end all of a gothic protagonist.

    There are common traits that you look for when identifying the gothic protagonist. In class, we have identified six of these traits. They are not requirements or definitions of the gothic protagonist.

    The first trait you are outlining is not accurate. The trait applies to a characters personality, not to the image they present to the world vs. their actual persona.

    You are going off track with your second paragraph and exploring the foreshadowing that surrounds Sybil rather than Dorian.

    Mrs. P


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