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Explore the ways in which Oscar Wilde presents the concept of Duality in ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’

By 124124124 Apr 28, 2014 1310 Words
Explore the ways in which Oscar Wilde presents the concept of Duality in ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’ Throughout Wilde’s gothic novel ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’ it is apparent that juxtaposition is used as a device to highlight the prevalent themes within the novel. The reoccurrence of comparisons highlights the transformations arising within the narrative; however I believe Wilde uses these comparisons to slowly reveal Dorian’s true character as the comparison become increasingly abrasive as the plot continues. An idea that is explored throughout the novel is the balance between the wealthy against poverty. Chapter one begins with a description of the surroundings of ‘Basil Halwoods’ art studio and this immediately introduces the reader to the expensive way of life of the novels primary characters. ‘ the studio was filled with the rich odour of roses.’ through this direct address of the senses and the semantic fields of luxury and nature ‘garden’, ‘lilac’, ‘pink-flowering thorn’ it creates the imagery of a delicate, well maintained home which is opposite to the stereotypical image linked to a Victorian home in 1890. The use of nature when describing the setting at the beginning of the novel gives this sense of beauty from the start; this could be seen as Wilde foreboding the transformations that will occur within the novel as the tone from the outset is pure, as is Dorian Gray. This could be likened to the idea of a blank canvas, this provides the opportunity for it to be damaged or ruined throughout the rest of the novel. Another example of the importance of duality between wealth and poverty within the novel is to reflect Victorian society’s view of how status was linked to a person’s wealth; this can be seen in the juxtaposing description of the theatre where Sibyl Vane performed. Directly contrasting the description of Basil’s studio, grotesque language is used when describing the theatre ‘’tawdry”, “discordant ‘’, “shrill‘’ to give the impression that Dorian, Basil and Henry are out of place in a location like this as all their previous encounters have taken place in settings described in a beautiful way such as Basil’s studio. This dramatic change in settings forebodes that something important is about to take place, however reveals that Dorian’s character (although having being influenced by Lord Henry) is still naïve when it comes to society as he is unaware of why it is strange that he has repeatedly returned to this theatre located in the bad side of the city. There is a strong divide between the two sides of London, as throughout the novel one is pronounced the bad side of the city instantly whereas the other side, where Dorian’s house is located, is seen as where the respectable members of society live. This idea of appearance vs reality is strongly visible when comparing the actions that take place in both areas, Wilde uses detailed sense experiences to explore the pleasures that wealthier members of society enjoy when in one side of town. The distinction between classes is apparent in the contrasting imagery that is used: ‘a very charming room, with its high-panelled wainscoting of olive stained oak...’ Wilde creates these beautiful, artistic settings in which the primary characters live and describes them in full daylight to create an appealing atmosphere. However whenever Dorian visits the ‘bad’ side of town Wilde uses darker imagery to associate with the lower class. For example when Dorian is wandering the streets after he rejects Sibyl he comes across ‘monstrous apes’ and ‘grotesque children", realities of life that he has been protected from by the upper class. This dark imagery is repeated when Dorian returns to the lower class’ side of town and goes to the ‘opium den’, in this section Wilde describes the streets ‘like the black web of some sprawling spider’ this suggests that Dorian feels unsafe when he visits this area however he is trapped like he is in a ‘web’ as he is constantly curiously returning. The sibilance towards the end of this sentence is used to create an unsettling, threatening atmosphere, which is how the upper class would have felt when being around lower class citizens or having any encounters with poverty stricken areas. Dorian’s actions also juxtapose when he is in the two opposing areas, the rougher side of town is always described at night as Dorian always returns in the darkness. It is suggested that the area and the darkness take away all of his innocence and leave to undergo his immoral actions. Dorian’s immoral actions in the rough side of town always seem to take place out in the open or in a public place where they are viewed by others such as the ‘opium den’. Whereas all of Dorian’s immoral actions are hidden from the upper class when he remains in the ‘good’ side of town, this is because he wishes to remain appearing moral to the upper class as society would judge him if they knew of his actions. For example Dorian only appears to be moral and religious when he is around others to retain his reputation- this is Wilde commenting on Victorian society and appearance vs. reality as people would act a certain way to keep the reputation but another way behind closed doors. This links to the portrait as he locks it away in the attic which then becomes the major isolated location within the novel- a key feature within the gothic genre. Throughout the novel there is an ongoing battle between good and evil. From the outset Wilde uses Basil as a device to show someone who is wholly good and is the stereotypical ‘superego’ character and has Lord Henry to oppose Basil by creating this self-indulgent ‘Id’ personality within him. This allows the novel to start with an almost equal balance between good and evil as Dorian is still pronounced ‘pure’ and ‘untouched’. However as the plot continues and Dorian begins to discover more about life there comes a turning point in the novel; when Dorian makes a deal with the devil to retain his youth. This reference to the ‘deal with the devil’ is the suggestion that Dorian has now sacrificed his soul and has left the place where he started the novel- as an innocent ‘young lad’. This sacrifice is what fuels the rest of Dorian’s transformations within the novel as he begins to understand the real powers of the portrait. Despite this there are moments where the reader may begin to think that Dorian is willing to return back to the good side as he has resentful thoughts ‘he thought of praying that the horrible sympathy that existed between him and the picture might cease.’ In these moments Wilde expresses how Dorian’s character is aware of all the evil he has committed yet the temptation was too much to resist. This quotation is important as it shows Dorian’s desperation for redemption through the reference to religion ‘prayer’ as religion would have been the most powerful thing that he could turn to. The crucial moment within the plot that shows the true fate of Dorian’s character is the death of Basil; from this action it becomes apparent that Dorian will no longer be able to save himself as he has destroyed the novels only symbol of all that is god when he murdered Basil as this is an action that can’t be reversed. The concept of duality is seen throughout the novel, in a series of different ways, to primarily reveal the true character of Dorian Gray. By revealing it in this manner Wilde is successfully able to create tension and have moments of anti-climax. Duality is important within the novel as the juxtapositions allow the reader to put the transformation of Dorian gray into perspective.

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