A Biblical Comparison to The Picture of Dorian Gray The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal youth. Dorian Gray is a young man of extraordinary beauty and innocence. Basil Hallward, a young talented artist, recognizes the purity and attractiveness of Dorian and he paints a portrait of him which captures all the life and loveliness of Dorian’s soul. Lord Henry Wotten, a member of the idle aristocracy of London, is enraptured by the portrait and determines to take the impressionable Dorian Gray under his guidance.
Upon meeting Lord Henry, Dorian is attracted to his worldly knowledge and his theories of the privileges of youth, the potency of the senses, and unrestrained impulsive pleasures that can be his without a pained conscience. This seductive sermon given to Dorian changes his life as he realizes for the first time that he is beautiful and decides to live by Lord Henry’s devilish theories.
Dorian laments that the portrait of himself will stay eternally young and portray his comeliness, but he will grow old and ugly with the passing of time and experience.
Dorian utters a wild prayer wishing that the portrait would receive all the signs of old age and the hideousness of his sins and that he would remain untouched and lovely. Soon after, Dorian falls in love with a girl named Sybil Vane, who kills herself when Dorian treats her cruelly. This is the first time that Dorian realizes that his wicked prayer has been granted and the portrait shows the ugly mark of his sin. From this time forth, every fresh sin that he commits is imprinted on the canvas. Dorian remains unscathed and lovely to look at as he continues in a path of cruelty, sensuality, treachery, and crime.
Eventually Dorian even kills Basil, who reminds him of his suppressed conscience. Finally, Dorian makes one final attempt to destroy his conscience by stabbing the portrait with the same knife that murdered Basil, but the knife is delivered to Dorian’s own heart. The portrait then regains the pure beauty that Basil painted it with and Dorian is transfigured into a decaying, hideous old man, the image of his true self. The story of Dorian Gray’s life parallels the Biblical story of the fall of man from innocence to the knowledge of good and evil.
With Dorian’s new knowledge he is given free choice and accountability, like the first man of the Bible, Adam. However, Dorian chooses to do evil and evade the responsibility for his actions, which will leads him to hell. Satan’s plan, followed diligently by Dorian, was a lie. There was no such thing as eternal beauty without goodness. As the story begins, Lord Henry and Basil Hallward’s discussion about young Dorian sets the stage for his likeness to Adam in the Bible. Basil describes Dorian as a perfect creation of God, blessed with golden curly hair, a finely sculptured body, youthful joyousness, purity, and innocence.
Basil considers him a lovely boy in perfect circumstances to represent the goodness and beauty of God. Adam also was created in the likeness of God with perfection and innocence Lord Henry Wotten plays the part of the serpent in Dorian’s garden of Eden. Basil, who represents the good force in Dorian’s life, recognizes that Lord Henry is evil and begs him to leave the garden and Adam alone, so that Dorian’s purity might remain unscathed. However, Lord Henry recognizes his chance to tempt and corrupt Dorian and he refuses to leave.
Like Satan in the Bible, Lord Henry wants to mold and destroy Dorian out of jealousy for Dorian’s perfect mortal body. He can not have his own flawless body so he must control Dorian’s body. Lord Henry felt “there was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence . . . To project one’s soul into some gracious form” (Wilde 35). His role as the seducer of Dorian Gray begins while Dorian is posing for a portrait that Basil is just completing. Lord Henry’s sermon to Dorian begins with the horror of the loss of youth with time and how Dorian must live each day fully, without self-denial, conscience, or guilt.
He urges him not to “squander to gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar. These are the sickly aims, the false ideals, of our age . . . Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing” (Wilde 22). Lord Henry denies there is good and evil and implores such an idea as sin. The only way to be satisfied is to “cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul” ( Wilde 20). The Satan in the Bible also tries to fool men into believing that there is no God, except sensations.
While Dorian poses, him Lord Henry is beguiling Dorian with the forbidden fruit of knowledge. Dorian is aware that “there had been things in his boyhood that he had not understood” (Wilde 19) and he is hungry for new knowledge, just as Adam desired to be guided to truth and fulfillment. As Dorian gazes at the completed portrait he symbolically takes a bite of Satan’s forbidden fruit when he recognizes for the first time that he is extraordinarily beautiful and graced. Lord Henry’s wicked theories, which shock Basil, appeal to Dorian with his first taste of vanity.
He states that t Lord Henry’s sermon esnew new awareness As Dorian awakens from his innocence to the sense of his new power under Lord Henry’s immediate corrupt influence, his first exercise of choice is also his fatal mistake. Dorian cries: I am jealous of everything whose beauty does not die. I am jealous of the portrait you have painted of me. Why should it keep what I lose? Every moment that passes takes something away from me, and gives something to it. Oh, if it were only the other way! If only the picture could change, and I could be always what I am now! Wilde 26) With this wild prayer, Dorian sells his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal beauty. Dorian wants knowledge but at the same time he wants to remain in a perfect state without judgement. God can not grant Dorian’s wish because He demands accountability, but Lord Henry, the Satanic symbol, is willing to lie to Dorian and tell him that he does not have to be responsible for his actions and that he can remain beautiful forever. Dorian is mislead by Satan’s (Lord Henry’s) doctrine of denial of consequences and conscience.
Dorian’s new life choice to achieve the moment of intensity, whether sensual or intellectual begins to effect his life and all those who came into contact with him almost immediately. After Sybil Vane’s suicide, Dorian becomes more and more detached from admirable human feelings and Satan overcomes Dorian’s soul with eagerness. When Basil is disturbed by Dorian’s callous feelings about the death of his lover, Dorian says, “It is only shallow people who require years to get rid of an emotion. A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure.
I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotion. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them” (Wilde 108). In the case of Dorian Gray, we see that the face of evil can be pretty, as Sybil Van tragically found out. However, Dorian discovers that he is not as free from the judgements of God as he had believedess. As Dorian continues in his path of wickedness he is involved in several deaths and the ruin of men and women, such as the crone in the opium den and Lord Henry’s sister. He becomes obsessed with jewels, the exotic rituals of the Catholic Church, and an evil book given to him by Lord Henry.
With each new sin the portrait of Dorian grows more gruesome and grotesque, carrying the weight of his offenses, and Dorian’s face and figure remain untouched. Donald L. Lawler states that, “Dorian’s portrait stands for the corrupt values of exploitation, the bogus idealism, and the hegemony of a self-assured ruling class. It allegorizes public as well as private vices–the crimes and sins concealed beneath rich brocades” (450). Continuing on with the comparison of Dorian Gray’s situation and man’s situation in the Bible, the Dorian’s world is not singularly filled with the dark influence of Satan, or Lord Henry Wotten.
Dorian, like Adam, also receives heavenly messages from those who wish to help and save him. The angel of goodness in Dorian’s life is Basil Hallward, who recognized Dorian’s initial purity and tried to protect him from evil influences. However, Dorian is far to wicked to be saved by Basil. Basil cannot rescue Dorian because Dorian can only rescue himself according to the law of God. He is the one who must accept the responsibility of his sins. Dorian recognizes the virtue in Basil, but for Dorian the good is too weak to conquer the evil.
Dorian tells Basil, “I know that you are better than [Lord Henry] is. You are not stronger–you are too much afraid of life–but you are better” (Wilde 110). It is Basil who taxes Dorian at last with the hidden horrors of his life, and Basil who is shown the picture: and characteristically his horrified reaction is the need for prayer. Basil’s existence forces Dorian to confront aspects of reality he is determined to ignore, and so his murder is accomplished, and any remaining influence from the painter comes from the portrait, which causes Dorian to wonder, even at the end, if he should not confess. Murray xi) Basil and the portrait both function as Dorian’s repressed conscience. However, even after this attempt to kill his conscience by murdering Basil and going to the opium den “to cure the soul by means of the senses” (Wilde 20), Dorian still resents the way that one little murder can bother him. He has spent his life denying his conscience and moral responsibility and yet he can never quite escape it. The final chapter is Dorian Gray’s final vain attempt to defend Lord Henry’s Satanic theories of denial of accountability.
The portrait represents conscience, so the same knife with which he killed Basil must be used to kill conscience also. “It would kill the past, and when that was dead he would be free. It would kill this monstrous soul-life, and , without its hideous warnings, he would be at peace” (Wilde 223). However, the end product of this effort is ironically what he fights against through life, the accountability that God demands must come with free choice.
As the knife enters his heart his corpse becomes no longer eternally lovely, but twisted and grotesque from age and sin, portraying the reality of his soul. The theme of damnation for selling your soul to the devil found in this story of Dorian Gray is also portrayed in the Bible. As Adam fell from ignorance, so did Dorian. As Adam was given free choice and accountability, so was Dorian. However, Dorian tried to escape from God’s laws and at the end of his life this great lie took its form in the shape of Dorian’s ruined body, which had once been the image of the perfect creation of God.
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