The Picture of Dorian Gray

Themes and motifs

Aestheticism and duplicity

The greatest theme in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) is Aestheticism and its conceptual relation to living a double life. Throughout the story, the narrative presents aestheticism as an absurd abstraction, which disillusions more than it dignifies the concept of Beauty. Despite Dorian being a hedonist when Basil accuses him of making a “by-word” of the name of Lord Henry's sister, Dorian curtly replies, “Take care, Basil. You go too far. . .”; thus, in Victorian society, public image and social standing do matter to Dorian.[8] Yet, Wilde highlights the protagonist's hedonism: Dorian enjoyed "keenly the terrible pleasure of a double life", by attending a high-society party only twenty-four hours after committing a murder.[8]

Moral duplicity and self-indulgence are evident in Dorian’s patronising the opium dens of London. Wilde conflates the images of the upper-class man and lower-class man in Dorian Gray, a gentleman slumming for strong entertainment in the poor parts of London town. Lord Henry philosophically had earlier said to him that: “Crime belongs exclusively to the lower orders . . . I should fancy that crime was to them what art is to us, simply a method of procuring extraordinary sensations” — implying that Dorian is two men, a refined aesthete and a coarse criminal. That authorial observation is a thematic link to the double life recounted in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), by Robert Louis Stevenson, a novella admired by Oscar Wilde.[1]

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