Narcissistic Theme in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray
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Zack Lindahl Beauty at Any Cost: The Narcissistic Theme in The Picture of Dorian Gray There are multiple themes within Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. One of these is very central in the novel, and that is the trait of self-love, narcissism. The whole novel is built around Dorian Gray's physical beauty, and his indulgence of it. There are numerous references and hints of narcissism, often comparing Dorian to Narcissus himself, or Dorian's selfish behavior which at times are classical for the psychological condition of extreme narcissism. The Picture of Dorian Gray tells a story, that at times bears a resemblance to ancient tales of narcissistic behavior, and Oscar Wilde consciously portrays it different aspects throughout the novel. There are several instances in the first part of the novel that illuminates the theme of narcissism.
Adonis with huntsman's cloak" (129), as Basil continues he say that Dorian, in his paintings, had "leant over the still pool of some Greek woodland, and seen in the water's silent silver the marvel of your own face" (129). This direct association between Dorian and Narcissus makes the theme of narcissism eminently clear. While these points are fairly superficial, the latter part of the novel, which starts at chapter XI, takes a turn towards the more sinister and psychological side of narcissism. We can see this continuing self-indulgence Dorian Gray's character, when his dissipation is described in chapter XI. The defilement of his soul does not disturb him, as he "grew more and more enamored with his own beauty, more and more interested in the corruption of his soul" (144). He surrounds himself with beautiful things like gemstones, perfumes and clothes.
without its hideous warnings, he would be at peace" (243), he thinks, but his act to make amend is still self-centered. The portrait lays the soul equally visible to him as his own visage is visible to others, and he longs for it to be beautiful, so he can be complete and perfect. It is still an egoistic though and his wish to change the painting is therefore just another exercise in vanity. He succumbs, just as Narcissus withers away in front of his reflection and Troy lie in ruin after a divine beauty pageant. The main plot is built around the narcissistic theme, and the theme has two aspects which Oscar Wilde explicitly deals with. These are the superficial, casual narcissism and deep psychological narcissism. He uses these traits to fully explore Dorian Grey's being, and show it to us in different stages of moral decay. With this, Wilde weaves together the plot that fits the mold of the ancient stories that tells of excessive fixation of beauty, or extreme self-love. Word count: 774
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