What benefit earns a man if he sacrifices his soul to conquer the world?
Oscar Wilde discusses this dilemma in his only novel, and certainly one of his most prominent masterpieces, The Picture of Dorian Gray. The author portrays the conflicting human nature, always striving for power, fame, and immortality.
Dorian Gray is a beautiful young man, who invokes admiration wherever he appears. When a friend of his draws him a portrait, Dorian is astonished by his own beauty and agrees to even selling his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal youth, attractiveness, and vitality. The portrait bears the marks of Gray’s vicious and demoting life, revealing his most disgraceful sins and secrets, while the original remains untouched. Wilde’s trademark, his astonishing use of humor and wit, is put once again to use to ridicule the morals and the prejudices of the English aristocracy in the end of the 19th century. In the face of Dorian’s friend, Lord Henry, the author satirically portrays the downfall and shortsightedness of society, where beauty, pleasure, and fame are considered most prominent virtues.
Dorian indeed saves his youth, and vitality but at the price of the only thing that makes him human and distinguishes him from wild nature – his soul. Throughout the novel his eternal beauty leads to insanity, alienation, corruption, and even crime.More than a century later Wilde ideas are still alive and painfully familiar. Ever since we read about the queen being obsessed with Snow White’s superior attractiveness, we are bombarded with powerful propaganda on the importance of outward appearance. Society is obsessed with looks, and not behavior, with attractiveness and not soul, with manners and not actions. The degrading results of this dangerous trend are most obvious. In Wilde’s novel Gray sold his soul to achieve eternal beauty. In contemporary society girls sell their health and vitality to reach a body image they believe society expects them to have.
Why do we place such a great importance on beauty in our lives? Are we searching for something to substitute that terrible desolation and alienation, a result from the progress we so intensely pursued? Or do we believe beauty is a universal instrument to attain eternity? I wonder exactly how many of us are ready to sell our soul to the devil in return for lasting youth and charm…Vanity indeed is a powerful weapon.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who in the land is fairest of all?”