The term 'beauty' may have very relative significance. Something can be beautiful for us, but ugly for other people. The external beauty of a person is often the first thing that we pay attention to. This is the result of the association of beauty with good and ugliness with evil. Through the outer appearance we make a general opinion about a given person.
Such a way of thinking may be very misleading. In order to get to know the person we need to look to the inside - into the soul. This is the place where the real beauty and ugliness are hidden. The notion of inner and outer beauty is perfectly presented in the novel 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde.
The story described in this book shows how the external attractiveness influences people's behavior and corrupts the inner beauty. The plot situated in the XIX England perfectly describes the higher class of this period. Shallow and two-faced society is concentrated only on the esthetic al values of the surrounding. Youth and beauty are the most precious and cultivated things. Even the worst deeds are forgotten if your beauty is extraordinary.
The main character, Dorian Gray is an example of a person from a higher class. This twenty-year old and extremely handsome young man is regarded among society as an ideal of beauty. His Physical attractiveness draws the attention of a very talented painter Basil Hallward. He decides to immortalize Dorian's beauty and paints his portrait. In the meantime Dorian meets cynical nobleman, Lord Henry Wotton. Just like everyone else, Lord Henry is astonished by the prettiness and innocence of Dorian.
Henry is a charming talker, and his views concerning beauty are the same as the views of other members of aristocracy. He cherishes it above all considering it as the most important thing in life. The talk with Lord Henry makes Dorian to think about the elapsing of the physical attractiveness. He realizes that some day his charm and youth will disappear and he will not be able to live a careless life anymore. This thought scares him very much especially when he sees the finished portrait, painted by Basil. He makes a whish, which will change 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 anything! Yes, there is nothing in the world I would not give! I would give my soul for that' (Chapter 2).
Dorian is not aware of he fact that this wish will come true. From now on the slow corruption of his soul begins. Under the influence of Lord Henry, Dorian is more and more eager for seeking pleasure in life. This becomes his priority.
Realizing his astonishing look, Dorian's deeds become more and more cruel and his inside starts changing irreversibly. The first significant change in his inner beauty occurs after meeting an actress, Sybil Vane. At the beginning we may think that his affection to her is true, but soon after it is obvious that he fell in love only with her acting. Therefore, when Lord Henry criticizes Sybil's acting Dorian finds no other reasons for being with her:' I loved you because you were marvelous, because you had genius and intellect, because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away. You are shallow and stupid.
My God! How mad I was to love you! What a fool I have been!' (Chapter 7). The cruel break up becomes the first step to Dorian's downfall. The first change appears in the picture, reflecting the corruption of his soul. The face in the picture changes its expression. It is no longer beautiful and innocent but rather cruel and incalculable. It represents the same emotions, which accompanied Dorian while breaking up with Sybil.
He realizes that the wish made in front of the painting became true. His outer beauty did not change at all, but his inner beauty began to fade away. For a short time remorse and fear occur inside Dorian, especially when he learns of Sybil's suicide. Nevertheless, Lord Henry convinces him about the artistic values of her death:' There is something to me quite beautiful about her death.
I am glad I am living in a century when such wonders happen. They make one believe in the reality of the things we all play with, such as romance, passion, and love' (Chapter 7). The fear that other people could see the portrait forces Dorian to hide it. When he is sure no one will discover his secret he starts to live a life full of pleasure and sensation. His love to his own beauty makes his deeds more and more repulsive. It all happens by the consent of the society, which judges Dorian on the basis of his look.
In the belief that good look comes together with good character people do not pay attention to the evil stories about him. After eighteen years Dorian's beauty is still perfect and untouched. The fear of someone seeing the picture starts to plunge him into madness. His love to aestheticism is seen in every aspect of life.
He studies music and art and fills his house with beautiful objects from all around the world. The art has also other significance for him. He uses it as an excuse for his evil deeds. He commits the sins for the sake of the beauty and art.
That is how he excuses his next crime, murder of Basil Hallward. When the painter sees the picture, his own work of art, he is terrified by what he sees. The figure on the portrait does not resemble his beloved friend anymore. On the contrary, the picture presents an old man with horrific evil on his face. Basil comprehends that the beautiful and young face of Dorian Gray is just a cover for his rotten and deprived of every goodness inside:' There was nothing evil in it, nothing shameful.
You were to me such an ideal, as I shall never meet you again. This is the face of a satyr. Christ! What a thing I must have worshipped! It has the eyes of a devil!' (Chapter 13). Dorian in the rush of the madness kills Basil. Thereafter he notices the next change in his picture, the blood on his hands. He uses opium to hush up his guilty conscience, an evil creature that is hidden inside.
Going to the danes for the opium is like a reality check. Dirty ugliness and desperation of the people are absolutely true here, on the contrary to the false beauty and happiness of the higher class. One of his night's escapades for the opium almost ends up with his death. James Vane, Sybil's brother, recognizes Dorian and blames him for his sister's death. Unexpectedly the life of Dorian is rescued by his eternal youth.
Constant fear for life and increasing remorse make that Dorian's feeling deteriorate. Even the news about Vane's accidental death makes him fell better only for a short time. Than he finally understands how disgusting sins he committed. Looking back on his life, he sees how big mistake he made by trusting Lord Henry.
The blind love for the outer beauty destroyed other's people lives and his soul as well. Now he knows that the attractiveness is overrated and the real beauty lies in the heart. Unfortunately he does not have enough courage to admit his crimes. He decides to destroy the picture thinking it will blot out his past and restore peace and happiness to his life. He is not aware of the fact that by destroying the picture he destroys his own soul. When Dorian Gray dies, the picture returns to its primeval looks, showing his magnificent outer beauty.
The book is full of allegories and illusions. Even the title has a deeper meaning. The word 'dorian' means 'golden' in ancient Greek. The linking of two colors: golden and gray perfectly reflects complexity of the main character. Dorian is an example of a Narcissist, a person who is in love with his own look. His glamorous good looks contrasts with the rotten and evil inside.
The story shows how shallow people can be while judging others. Another interesting point is the misleading statement that the beauty always comes together with goodness. The painting which serves as a mirror of Dorian's soul perfectly reflects the inevitably changes in his character, while the beauty of his face is unchanged. No one beliefs in the evil stories about him because of his outstanding outer appearance,' The Picture of Dorian Gray' is a timeless story about what is really important in life, namely our inside.
Only by knowing our hidden emotions we can really judge whether the person is good or bad. Bibliography: Vary, A. (1998). A Preface to Oscar Wilde, Longman, NY Cornish, F. H. ; Wilde, Oscar (1993).
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Heinemann, Oxford.