The Picture of Dorian Gray contains many autobiographical elements. In particular, the three major characters – Dorian Gray, Henry Wotton, and Basil Hallward – all reflect in different ways the character, views, and experiences of the author. Analyze these connections, describing how each major character displays an aspect of Oscar Wilde. Include details from the author’s life as well as from the novel to support your answer.
“Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps”. This quote was the famous line uttered by Oscar Wilde regarding the publication of his one, and only, novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. The three main characters in the classic novel – Henry Wotton, Basil Hallward, and Dorian Gray – all display certain qualities of the author. Each quality unique from another, but all equally pressing qualities shielded away from the general public. In the philosophical novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Wilde has embedded three distinct qualities from his own life experiences – appearances, kindness, and sinfulness – to weave within the three dynamic personalities. In result, producing the building blocks to the animation of these characters.
Lord Henry Wotton is perceived as shallow and manipulative, however, the word “perceived” should be noted – Oscar Wilde believes that, he too, is “perceived” wrongfully by outsiders. “There was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence. No other activity was like it.” (Wilde 42). Wotton appears very selfish and shallow, he chooses to believe that by using test subjects to manipulate, in this case Dorian Gray, he is able to test out his own theories in which he is too cowardly to test out himself. It is his ignorance that authorizes him towards the belief that Dorain, like himself, would only analyze the theories, not live accordingly to them – one “who speaks only immoral things yet does only moral deeds”. Oscar Wilde weaved himself into this aspect in the sense that the world outside liked to describe him as “someone who enjoys studying people” or an individual who “always seems to conjure up immoral theories, but never carrying out the action” – selfish and shallow. However, the ways in which he viewed himself was much more gentle.
Basil Hallward was the misunderstood and kind figure in the group – Oscar Wilde identified with this in the aspects of homosexuality and knowledge. Basil was shown as the brilliant, misunderstood artist who tries to be best to humanity and paints real beauty. Through Wilde’s own eyes he often criticized the society around him for he thought his views were often brilliant, although cocky, what he had observed was wise and insightful; for instance, his criticism on the society he lived in – a society in which men often lied to each other to be polite, and gossip about each other when the other was absent. Just like Basil, Wilde showed signs of homosexuality; although the signs were there, they both try to control and shield it away. Upon first seeing Dorain, “I turned halfway round and saw Dorian Gray for the first time. When our eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me. I knew that I had come face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself.” (Wilde 14), the reader can sense attraction from Basil towards this male figure. As Wilde sees himself as Basil, he believes he is still in control of himself, and stays on his good “side” – every now and then hinting at his attraction, never truly embracing or showcasing it. “Then I feel, Harry, that I have given away my whole soul to someone who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer’s day.” (Wilde 19). Basils attraction to Dorian is merely irresistible, however, he finds himself chasing after him like a schoolgirl with a crush; constantly in a losing battle with Lord Henry to seek Dorians attention. Oscar Wilde, was in a sense, in a constant losing battle with his sexuality; always chasing after men but leaving unfulfilled for lack of betterment and pleasant to society. Basil and Dorian did not show their homosexuality or sleep with men, because they lacked the means to stay hidden, being known figures in society; Basil known as a benevolent artist and Oscar being on the rise for his publications. Furthermore, this is what further motivates Wilde to please and reveal this side.
It hurt Wilde that he could not fully embrace his sexuality, and he wished he could participate in homosexual practices without changing others perception of him; this was exactly what Dorian Gray was able to do, “Dorian what I would like to be”. It seems Dorian himself was homosexual, being described as such a handsome individual, it would be likely that he grew tired of constantly seducing women, perhaps he went to look for more immoral pleasures; such as males. Although Wilde does not describe any practice of homosexuality associated with Dorian, he strongly hints Gray had relationships with more than only females. Later on, Dorian meets Basil again after ten years, Basil asks Dorian why there are “shameful rumors about him going around in the upper-class society”, and why Dorian’s friendship is so fatal to these young men; “how he brings so much shame and sorrow to the families and fathers of the young men”. This suggests Dorian seduced these young men into having sex with him after becoming intimate with them. This brings shame over the boys and their families, but does not affect Dorian as he looks just as innocent as he did before. Dorian Gray once said, “I used to be totally reckless of young lives. … I used to take up a boy, love him ‘passionately’ and then grow bored with him and take no notice of him. That is what I regret in my past life.” This quote ties in perfectly with the mindset of Dorian Gray; almost as if the death of Basil signified the death of Wilde’s pure self, because the death was by Dorian Gray – the sinful side Wilde has always wanted to be – resulted in Dorian over taking the absence of Basil. In addition, Basil was dissolved in acid, acid signifies feelings of hatred, rage, or revenge. This means that all Basil signifies – purity – was dissolved and melted into hatred. In the end, this is what Oscar Wilde wanted for himself, and this is why he wishes to be Dorian Gray in another life; to live one without consequences for homosexuality.
In the fictional novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Oscar Wilde has added three distinct qualities from his own life experiences – appearances, kindness, and sinfulness – to add depth within the three dynamic characters. The three main characters in the novel, all display certain qualities of the author. In conclusion, Lord Henry Wotton represents how others in society view Oscar. While Basil Hallward represent the ‘true’ Oscar and how he sees himself, but misunderstood to society. Dorian Gray, on the other hand, is neither how others view him or how he views himself, Dorian Gray is how he wishes to be – open and accepted for who he was. In the end, comprehending the perception of himself, his true feelings, and finally accepting himself, it is evident how these three characters are in accordance to the phases and personalities of Oscar Wilde. Almost like an extension of Wilde’s own facade, soul, and heart.
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6 thoughts on “A Mirror: Oscar Wilde and His Creations”
I truly think that your post is an insightful exploration of Oscar Wilde’s personality. Even though we chose the same prompt, your understanding of the characters’ relationships with Wilde provided me with fresh perspectives that did not even cross my mind; for this, I thank you!
In regards to strengths, I like how you associated each of the main characters with a certain trait, namely, appearance with Lord Henry, kindness with Basil, and sinfulness with Dorian. This allowed your post to be concise (at least more concise than mine!) and easily understood. I enjoyed the similes you used in your piece, especially “he finds himself chasing after him like a schoolgirl with a crush,” which you used to describe Basil’s wistful longing for Dorian’s affections. This, aside from making me smile, allowed me to understand Basil’s feelings as it helped capture a deeper sense of unrequited love in a way that was more relatable to a contemporary audience. I also admired your symbolic explanation of the acid that was used to get rid of Basil’s body; by mentioning it as a symbol of hatred, you effectively encapsulated Wilde’s hatred of societal restrictions and how he desired to get rid of Basil (who he was) to make way for Dorian (who he wanted to be). Excellent use of symbolism!
To make your brilliance shine even brighter, I would suggest keeping a more watchful eye for sentences that could use re-wording or different punctuation, such as this: “It seems Dorian himself was homosexual, being described as such a handsome individual, it would be likely that he grew tired of constantly seducing women, perhaps he went to look for more immoral pleasures; such as males.” While I think the content itself is insightful, I thought that the sentence could use better punctuation to give it a smoother flow. For example, you could say: “It seems Dorian himself was a homosexual; being described as such a handsome individual, it would be likely that he grew tired of constantly seducing women, prompting him to look for more immoral pleasures through other males.” This sentence isn’t the best example, but I hope it gives you an idea of what I suggest. I would especially watch for your use of semicolons (which I also tend to struggle with!). My next suggestion is something a bit more minor: in your concluding paragraph, you call Henry Wotton a “King” instead of “Lord.” These areas of improvement, however, take virtually nothing away from your piece!
All in all, I enjoyed reading your post as it gave me a fuller understanding of who Oscar Wilde was, ending it masterfully by relating the three principal characters with Wilde’s façade, soul, and heart. How could I have not thought of that? It truly is an excellent way to encapsulate the idea that Wilde’s novel is, first and foremost, a portrait of the author himself. What a beautiful way to end a beautiful post!
Thank you so much for leaving me with such kind and thoughtful feedback! I will definitely take your constructive criticism in mind next time. I definitely agree with you, my sentence structure do have areas for improvement.
Oh my goodness! You’re such a great writer; please, teach me your ways. Your creation of connections to Wilde’s life, as per the prompt, were magnificent. It really sounds like I’m just hyping you up but I genuinely am in awe of your skill set. I was most baffled by the connection you made when you wrote, ” In addition, Basil was dissolved in acid, acid signifies feelings of hatred, rage, or revenge. This means that all Basil signifies – purity – was dissolved and melted into hatred.” – wow! Never in a thousand years could I have made such a linking, so thank you for that insight. Further, your writing style is one that is enjoyable to read for extended periods of time without growing tiresome. You construct creative phrases and sentences that really allowed you to sink your hooks into me, metaphorically. I loved the line “…constantly in a losing battle with Lord Henry to seek Dorian’s attention.” as it was a great way to convey how desperate Basil was. Also, ” this was exactly what Dorian Gray was able to do, “Dorian what I would like to be”.” was a close second due to how intentional and effective your quotation use and timing was.
As far as improvements go I shall humbly suggest two things: GUMPS and use of academic language. As far as GUMPS there was a little error when you stated, “Dorian(‘)s attention”; however, it really did not take away from your piece and was not overly distracting. In regard to the use of academic language I would suggest changing the wording of “schoolgirl with a crush”, perhaps, as it deterred from the analysis, a tad.
As always, it is a joy to read your work! Great piece Judy!
AHAHA “that really allowed you to sink your hooks into me, metaphorically”, nice one! Thank you so much for your humorous and kind feedback; in addition, to your suggestions with GUMPS and the whole “school girl crush” part.
Thanks once again!
I loved this piece. I found that you developed your arguments well, as they were concise and to the point. I know that based on your comment on Jieo’s post, you feel like sometimes your writing is “boring and repetitive,” however I can guarantee that that is the farthest thing from true. This post honestly reminded me of my own writing style greatly. I found that you had constant evidence to back up your argument, and I especially liked the ways in which you used specific phrases rather than full passages as evidence. This showed that you you relied less on the passage to do the explaining, but rather only took the “meat” from the quote and directly explained it’s significance in relation to your argumentation. I especially loved the last body paragraph where you compared Dorian Gray to Oscar Wilde. In this paragraph you touched specifically on the idea of Wilde’s homosexuality, which is something I did in my post as well, however you did it in a way that was different from mine, and I felt as though I learned even more about that concept. I especially loved how you used one of Wilde’s quotes “I used to take up a boy, love him ‘passionately’ and then grow bored with him and take no notice of him. That is what I regret in my past life.” as that was an EXCELLENT example of evidence that was used to not only compare the behaviours of Wilde to Dorian, but also connect to one of the requirements of the prompt, where you needed specific details from Oscar Wilde’s own life. Also, I seriously loved your visual. I think it really made sense with the prompt you responded to.
For a to work on, I would just advise you to pay close attention to the tenses you write in (for example, the present versus past tense). This is something that is very easy to mix up, and I have been guilty of confusing the two in my own writing. It’s something that goes easily unnoticed when you are writing, and sometimes even proofreading, as we often look for GUMPS, and that isn’t something we totally think about. I bring this up when you speak about Oscar Wilde’s life, it is important to do so in the past tense. For example, I noticed this in the second body paragraph where you initially wrote, “As Wilde sees himself as Basil…” as that sentence is written in the incorrect present tense, whereas the lines afterwards are written as, “Oscar Wilde, was in a sense, in a constant losing battle with his sexuality…”, which happens to be in the correct past tense. It’s a small thing, but very important to understand love. Have no fear though, it’s an easy fix! Besides that, I would perhaps just consider the relevance of the last lines of your Dorian paragraph as they have to deal with Basil’s death, as it didn’t really fit the other argument you had made in that paragraph. I would offer that that sentence be moved to his paragraph, or perhaps even taken out to improve flow. Lastly, I’m sure you have noticed but in the last paragraph you write “In conclusion, King Henry Wotton represents how others in society view Oscar.” whereas as it should be written as, “In conclusion, LORD Henry Wotton…”
Overall, I thoroughly loved this piece Judy. Your writing resembles you in the sense that it is so eloquent and well thought out, while being strikingly simple. I seriously love that about you. I can’t wait to read what you post next!
Thank you so much for the amazingly thoughtful response to my piece! With the areas that I glowed to the areas in which I need growth, I’ve already learnt a lot from reading your comment. I’ve always had trouble focusing on re-reading for GUMPS and writing in past/present tenses, I realize now that that’s a area to improve in. Silly me, both you and Jieo have mentioned the “King Lord Henry” mistake, so I’ve gone back to edit that!