In the Chinese school of thought known as Taoism, the above symbol represents the prevalence and balance of two opposing forces known as yin and yang, the former represented by the colour black, the latter by the colour white. Yin is the ubiquitous negative energy in the universe, associated with darkness; yang is the positive energy, in the universe, associated with brightness. Both are meant to balance one another in nature, and it is for this reason that one cannot exist without the other. Within yin, there is yang, and within yang, there is yin. The same can be said of vice and virtue in human nature: humans are intrinsically capable of both, and one cannot be fully engulfed in either virtue or vice. It is the stimulus in one’s environment that may drive the individual to opt for one over the other. Dorian Gray, as the title character in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, is the quintessence of this philosophy, in that he’s a character who is shifted solely by the influence of others, never decisive on his own accord. It’s in his name! Gray is the colour between black and white; it is balance. This aspect of Dorian’s nature suggests that he’s a character who contains both yin and yang, positive energy and negative energy, yet his indecisiveness is a result of the unnatural balance of those two energies. Most individuals are dominated by either one of the two energies, but Dorian is dominated by neither. Being unable to commit to neither negativity (darkness) or positivity (light) is what makes Dorian a pure individual, for he is not tainted by any colour. In the same way, it increases his vulnerability in that Dorian’s energy will veer towards the individual that tries to paint the most of his character through their influence.
At the beginning of the novel, Dorian has already known Basil for a significant amount of time. The optimistic energy that we see of him is a direct result of Basil’s influence; Basil is an individual who only ever wishes to see the beauty within life, which makes it clear that Basil is an individual who adheres to the yang energy. Basil believes in the innate virtue of human nature which is reflected onto Dorian as Basil paints Dorian in accordance to Basil’s own idealism. Due to the natural balance of both energies within Dorian, Basil’s influence towards positivity upsets the balance within Dorian towards the yang energy. When shifted towards yang energy, Dorian can be described as naive and passionate, mostly. As Basil paints the actual portrait of Dorian, he paints the character of Dorian to be similar to his own. Basil is actually painting a portrait of himself. He even states to Lord Henry that, “There is too much of myself in [the portrait], Harry – too much of myself!” (Wilde 19). As the head of the Aestheticism movement, Basil only ever desires to paint subjects in their most natural state. This is impossible in the case of Dorian because of his colourless nature; while Dorian’s rare balance makes him beautiful, it makes him all the more susceptible to disruptions in the balance. Basil had already started running his brush over Dorian’s character when he first met him, and it was from there that he placed “too much of [himself]” in the portrait that became Dorian Gray.
The readers are well aware of Lord Henry’s negative energy before he even speaks to energy, and so Lord Henry’s excessive obsession in wanting to meet Dorian Gray may be thought to foreshadow the long-lasting influence Henry will have on Dorian. Judging from his cynical attitude and pursuit of Hedonism without regards to morality, Henry is a character who is ruled by the yin energy. His amoral beliefs radiate negative energy, to the point where his initial meeting with Dorian makes Dorian uncomfortable. Henry’s immorality preys on the repressed negativity that was present within Dorian, even in his overly naive state. Dorian, having never experienced such seductive yin energy, feels attraction to it. Lord Henry’s words are the stimulus that awakens Dorian’s internal darkness that was suppressed by Basil’s light. Dorian wishes to pursue the individual who had made him falter in his pure beliefs. Individuals often have a desire to pursue that which inspires the greatest change within them, but for a person whose nature lives in a state equilibrium between opposing energies, like Dorian, are tormented by the conflict brought about by these changes. Dorian is already overwhelmed by the presence of negativity in Henry’s discourse, shown when Dorian snaps at Henry, “Don’t speak. Let me think, or, rather, let me try not to think” (Wilde 30). Yin and yang don’t mix in equal parts: Dorian is equally influenced by the goodwill of Basil as he is the dialogue of Henry. It’s already outside of the expectations of Dorian’s established pleasant character to show anger towards a stranger, yet he also wishes for silence, something which he found displeasing in Basil’s studio. Basil’s domineering yang within Dorian is challenged by Henry’s alluring yin; the disruption of balance within Dorian forces him to choose between his two key influences.
Dorian wishes to pursue the individual who had made him falter in his pure beliefs. Individuals often have a desire to pursue that which inspires the greatest change within them, but for a person whose nature lives in a state equilibrium between opposing energies, like Dorian, are tormented by the conflict brought about by these changes. Dorian is already overwhelmed by the presence of negativity in Henry’s discourse, shown when Dorian snaps at Henry, “Don’t speak. Let me think, or, rather, let me try not to think” (Wilde 30). Yin and yang don’t mix in equal parts: Dorian is equally influenced by the goodwill of Basil as he is the dialogue of Henry. It’s already outside of the expectations of Dorian’s established pleasant character to show anger towards a stranger, yet he also wishes for silence, something which he found displeasing in Basil’s studio. Dorian has become sensitive to the negativity that resides in the world, leading to the broadening of his vision. At the same time, Dorian’s naivety is threatened. By trying not to think, Dorian will be able to ignore both types of energies that are attracting him; he will be in a temporary balance, the balance that is portrayed in Basil’s finished portrait. The instability of this equilibrium is also created in the portrait, which allows it to become a moral compass for Dorian later on. Basil’s domineering yang within Dorian is challenged by Henry’s alluring yin; the disruption of balance within Dorian forces him to choose between his two key influences.
Dorian gravitates towards Lord Henry over Basil, given that Henry’s overtly negative energy is not one that is commonly found in the Victorian society where judgement runs rampant; the purity within Dorian remains, however. Lord Henry plays his charm to Dorian’s curiosity, allowing his yang energy to permeate Dorian’s surroundings through the words he says to Dorian. The infatuation Dorian feels to Sibyl Vane is similar to the attraction Dorian feels to Henry’s Hedonism, but the nature of both is completely different. It is the extremism present within Basil, Sybil, and Henry that invokes change within Dorian. Individuals that live in balance between morality and immorality are extremely volatile. Easily influenced. Easily charmed. As Dorian is; Dorian’s last name itself symbolizes that he lives between black and white.
Dorian would’ve been cursed to have been perpetually tormented by the conflicting stimulants in his environment, had it not been for Dorian’s portrait. His cursed portrait. The portrait is a reflection of the instability Dorian felt in the moment where he was first introduced to yin. The soul of the picture contains the same intrinsic balance that Dorian has, and therefore it is equally fragile. Dorian understands that his fate has become bound to the portraits when it is narrated that, “[The portrait] held the secret of his life, and told his story” (Wilde 101). The picture initially becomes an extension of Basil’s influence due to the highlighted perfection of the portrait, albeit it is tainted by Henry’s influence due to the ambitious wish Dorian made upon it. The hope to return to the purity he once held results in Dorian almost shifting back to yang in his resolution to go back to Sibyl Vane. Her suicide inspires Dorian’s plunge into Hedonism, for then the influence of Henry’s yin overwhelms Basil’s yang. The death of Sibyl’s optimism makes Dorian believe in the futility of possessing yang energy. Positivity is preyed upon by the coldness of mortality. Dorian will only face pain if he accepts yin, leaving yang as the painless option. Ironically, choosing yang to avoid the pain that is associated with reality results in Dorian’s eventual downfall.
The cause of Dorian’s eventual suicide is that Dorian’s natural inclination towards equilibrium between yin and yang is unable to coexist with his indulgence in yin, and to equalize both sides, Dorian must kill the progenitor of his descent into imbalance: his portrait. The portrait has become a mirror to him now. It is his identity, for it reminds him of his untainted nature. By stabbing the portrait, Dorian ends up destroying his own nature. The death of one’s nature extends to the death of oneself. For Dorian, the conflicting stimulus in his environment brought about his downfall, since the multiple stimuli forced Dorian to fully commit himself to one of the two types of energies.
External influences disrupt the nature of one’s energies, especially for those who have achieved a delicate balance of those energies. For Dorian, this led to destruction to restore that beautiful balance. Dorian was damned by the stimulus of his environment. By Basil, Henry, Sibyl. His portrait. They prevented Dorian from staying true to his nature. The influences in our environment are often like that: they pull an individual towards their own energy without regard for the nature of the individual. Lord Henry himself once stated that “all influence is immoral” (Wilde 28). Without a doubt, it is, for the essence of influence exists under the notion that an individual may shift the character of the influenced person. That isn’t to say that one should cease to influence others; rather, it is more of a warning for those who open themselves up to conflicting influences that will ultimately tear their soul apart.
http://confirmwithin.com/the-balance-of-good-evil-yin-yang YIN AND YANG SYMBOL
http://www.clipartpanda.com/categories/imbalance-20clipart BALANCE SCALES
This piece was edited on October 18, 2017.
Thank you to Nilave, Lucas, Tim, and Ms. Hunnisett for giving me feedback on what needed to be changed for this piece. Specifically, Nilave and Tim gave me insight into my lack of matter in my piece, which I’ve tried to correct. I was notified by Lucas that some of my sentences were left unfinished, so I’ve gone back and finished the sentences that were left unfinished (I’ll definitely reread carefully from now on…). The ever-so critical eye of Ms. Hunnisett caught my lack of evidence, and so I’ve added two extra quotes (and changed one) in order to mitigate the damage done to my argument. Once again, thank you to all!