16 November 2012
"I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream -- I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the malady of medievalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal -- to something finer, richer than the Hellenic ideal, it may be. But the bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself” (20-21).
Hellenism and Homoerotic Relationship in The Picture of Dorian Gray
Ancient Greek culture has become deeply rooted and entwined with modern literature; themes, motifs, symbols, and a variety of literary devices are borrowed from its classical customs. The Picture of Dorian Gray, despite being written during the 19th century, frequently references Greek customs such as mythology and the worth of beauty and youth. The protagonist, Dorian Gray, is idolized by two men who portray the young man as a Greek godlike figure, enticed by his picture-perfect looks and naive personality. Lord Henry, a man who thrives off scandal, succeeds to corrupt Dorian’s innocence while Basil, an artist who love for the boy is pure, stands by helplessly. While both men develop intimate relationships with Dorian, the bond between boy and Lord Henry is instantaneous and ablaze with excitement. Homosexual tendencies are prevalent throughout the novel; however, never directly addressed because same sex relations were considered vulgar and socially unacceptable in the 19th century. Throughout his novel, Lord Henry criticizes the current culture’s lack of acceptance and glorifies the ancient Greek Hellenistic culture, where homoeroticism was socially accepted, common, and frequently occurred often between adolescent boys and older men. In Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the allusion of Hellenism- in reference to the peculiar fixation Lord Henry exhibits, along with his intense opinions on passions, and his attempts to influence Dorian to embrace these urges- conveys a subliminal theme of homoeroticism. The typically factual Lord seems to get carried away in genuine enthusiasm while delivering his influential speech to Dorian, bringing a moment of transparency to his character that alludes to homosexual urges: ‘I believe that if one man were to live his life fully and completely, were to form every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream-- I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy” (20). Henry is represented as someone who speaks based on gathered facts rather than true emotion and who usually delivers his points with aphorisms; however, this speech is delivered in longer sentences, as if he is ranting on, which occurs when one is genuinely involved with an idea. The beginning of this passage eases into a parallel sentence structure by keeping the same syntax (were to…every) and gradually shortening the sentences, which mimics the rise of action in Lord Henry’s speech. (“…were to live out his life fully and completely, …were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream”). The phrase “I believe” reveals a longing for this to happen, and is repeated, which strengthens his adamancy. By hoping for a single man to step up, as opposed to a group of men, Lord Henry is suggesting that no men at all are truly living his life to its full extent because of the emotions, ideas, and dreams that are restrained. At this point in the speech, the conflict that is preventing these men from expression isn’t revealed. The source of the conflict remains a mystery, as well as what exact feelings/thoughts/dreams are being held captive; this vagueness creates the sense that these repressions are extremely sinful. Clues throughout the book lead us to believe that Lord Henry’s sins are of homosexual nature. Upon influencing Dorian, he notices the boy’s distress and addresses his unconscious...
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