The controversy surrounding "The Picture of Dorian Gray" when it was released is something that must be taken in context with regard to the moral climate of the Victorian time period. Critics of the time argued the book would corrupt those who read it based on what popular opinion considered abhorrent behavior at the time. Oscar Wilde on the other hand felt the book's overall message was more in tune with popular opinion than his critics, though suggested it wasn't radical enough. The argument hinges on the end of the book and Dorian's suicide.
Critics of the novel were afraid that reading the book would tempt young men into experimenting with homosexuality. At the time homosexuality was considered a deviant behavior or a phase, but certainly not a lifestyle. In fact homosexual acts were criminalized. The book does not explicitly depict Dorian as living a homosexual lifestyle, but it is clearly the implication. The underlying thought behind such criticism is that by reading about the behavior, the behavior is encouraged. This logic is flawed. Reading about being a homosexual doesn't make you a homosexual anymore than reading about bass will make you a fish. However the publication of the book and the subsequent controversy did help to bring an end to the taboo of homosexuality as a topic for public discussion. In that sense, the book did change popular opinion which arguably makes the critics correct. However, to call such a change a corruption would be homophobic by today's standards. In addition, just because something wasn't being talked about doesn't mean it wasn't taking place. The critics' arguments are much like the debate that America is having now about sex-education and whether teaching children about birth-control encourages promiscuity. What critics largely ignored, and the reason Wilde thought the book was "too moral", was that Dorian Gray eventually suffers for his lifestyle. Of course there was good reason for the critics to ignore the ending,...
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