The Supremacy of Youth and Beauty – The first principle of aestheticism, the philosophy of art by which Oscar Wilde lived, is that art serves no other purpose than beauty. Throughout The Picture of Dorian Gray, beauty reigns. It is a means to revitalize the wearied senses as indicated by the effect that Hallward’s painting has on the cynical Lord Henry. It is also as a means of escaping the brutalities of the world, as Dorian distances himself from the horrors of his actions (not to mention his consciousness) by devoting himself to the study of beautiful things: music, jewels, rare tapestries. In a society that prizes beauty so highly, youth and physical attractiveness become great commodities. Lord Henry reminds Dorian of as much upon their first meeting, when he laments that the young man will soon enough lose his most precious attributes. In Chapter XVII, the Duchess of Monmouth suggests to Lord Henry that he places too much value on these things; indeed, the demise of Dorian Gray confirms her suspicions. For although beauty and youth remain of utmost importance at the end of the novelthe portrait is, after all, returned to its original formthe novel suggests that the price one must pay for them is exceedingly high. Dorian gave nothing less than his soul, which is a mistake that Oscar Wilde himself later committed when he sacrificed his career, his reputation, and his livelihood for a beautiful, young boy who would later on lead him to ruin.
The Picture of Dorian Gray – The picture of Dorian Gray is “the most magical of mirrors” that shows Dorian the physical burdens of age and sin from which he has been spared. For a time, Dorian manages to set his conscience aside and live his life according to a single goal: achieving pleasure. His painted image, however, asserts itself as his conscience and hounds him with the knowledge of his crimes: there he sees the cruelty he showed to Sibyl Vane and the blood he spilled by killing Basil Hallward.
The Superficial Nature of Society – Certainly it is no surprise that a society that prizes beauty above all else is a society founded on a love of surfaces. What matters most to Dorian, Lord Henry and the polite company they keep, is not whether a man is good at heart, but rather whether he is handsome. As Dorian evolves into the realization of a type, the perfect blend of scholar and socialite, he experiences the freedom to abandon his morals without censure. Indeed, even though, as Basil Hallward warns, his name and reputation are being questioned by society’s elite, Dorian is never ostracized. On the contrary, despite his “mode of life,” he remains at the heart of the London social scene because of the “innocence” and “purity of his face.” As Lady Narborough notes to Dorian, there is little (if any) distinction between ethics and appearance: “you are made to be good-you look so good.”
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