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Mid Sweden University Department of Humanities English Studies

The Evil in Dorian Gray: A Psychoanalytic Study of the Protagonist in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Rosanna Eklund
English C / Special Project Tutor: Joakim Wrethed 2007-02-14

Table of Contents

Introduction Previous Research The Victorian Era and Aestheticism About the Author The Psychoanalytic Theory Dorian Gray and the Conscience Dorian Gray and Consciousness Dorian Gray and the Unconscious Dorian Gray’s Path to Degradation The First Cruel Act The Cruelty Continues The Evil in Dorian Gray Redeeming Qualities Conclusion Works Cited

1 2 4 5 6 7 9 10 11 11 13 15 16 18 20

1

Introduction
“The telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art” (Oscar Wilde). Oscar Wilde is as famous for his wit and legendary quotes as he is for his texts. In his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde explores the practical reality of a hedonistic, pleasure-seeking lifestyle without boundaries. During the 1890s, Oscar Wilde was one of the leaders of the so called aesthetic movement in England. In his novel he puts this theory into practice. His attempt makes up an interesting study of aestheticism and decadence, the Late Victorian Era, and of Oscar Wilde himself. In this essay, however, this novel and its protagonist will be analysed from a psychoanalytic perspective with emphasis on Freud’s theories of the psyche. Freud’s psychoanalytic theories deal with the three-part psyche (Barry 97). He claims that the human mind contains the ego, the super-ego and the id; three parts that struggle to catch our attention. Lacan, similarly, acknowledges a struggle in the mind between seeking pleasure and doing good (Lacan 23). The character of Dorian Gray may be used as a prime example to explain the Freudian concepts of the ego, the super-ego and the id (Barry 97). In The Picture of Dorian Gray, we can follow the degradation of what at first appears to be a healthy psyche. During the course of the novel, the reader follows Dorian as the three parts of his mind melt into one. Basil Hallward’s painting does, quite literally, take the shape of, and show the face of, Dorian Gray’s id, while Dorian’s physical face only shows traces of what appears to be a perfect, ideal super-ego. Oscar Wilde’s novel makes a very interesting foundation for psychoanalytic literary criticism with its worship of aestheticism and hedonism and the effect it has on a man. I have chosen to apply the concepts of ‘evil’ and ‘good’ on Dorian Gray in accordance with the commonly accepted distinctions given in for example the Bible.

2 Thereby, I will show in what ways Dorian Gray’s psyche is disturbed. Thus, I will in this essay analyse what I call ‘the evil’ in Oscar Wilde’s character Dorian Gray. I will investigate in what ways the psyche of Dorian Gray is disturbed and how it came to be that way. To do this, I will use Freud’s concepts of the ego, the super-ego and the id, which I will apply to the character to find out how the evil is manifested in him. To achieve this, I will first present a short introduction of the author, aestheticism and the time and society the novel is written in. Secondly, I will make a short summary of the part of psychoanalysis I will apply here, namely the three levels of the psyche as presented by Freud. I will also draw parallels to Lacan’s similar theories on pleasure-seeking. Finally, I will conduct a close reading of Oscar Wilde’s novel in order to apply these theories to the character Dorian Gray.

Previous Research
The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published in 1890 in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, and through it Oscar Wilde set the norm for the new aestheticism of the 1890s (Ellman 305). Dorian Gray became an example of the pleasure-seeking hedonist – an art Wilde had already preached for fourteen years in articles such as “The True Function and Value of Criticism: With Some Remarks on the Importance of Doing Nothing: A Dialogue” and...
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