Thoughts about the Conceptions of Beauty in The Picture of Dorian Gray
The notion of beauty and what constitutes beauty, comes up frequently within Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray, especially as Dorian himself encompasses what is perceived to be beauty. However, this image raises fundamental questions that surface even in our own society today. What is beauty and at what price are we willing to pursue this ideal?
Basil and Lord Henry have a fascinating conversation in which they ponder the nature of beauty. Accordingly, “it is better not to be different from one’s fellows”(45) and as such, ugliness and stupidity rank above that of intelligence and beauty. I have to disagree on the context of this remark, I believe that ‘ugliness’ is not specific to one’s looks; ugliness is subjective. A person can be beautiful on the outside and treat people badly, and it is this type of person that, to me, is ugly. In this context, the portrait of Dorian is a physical manifestation of his inner ugliness while his exterior remains young and flawless.
At what cost are we willing to preserve our outer beauty though? In an instance, Dorian bargains away his soul for eternal beauty and lives a life of decadence, but all the while, his inner beauty is rotting away. So what is wrong with imperfections? To me, the wrinkles on one’s face are a work of art that tells the story of the individual. Each line on a persons face is a story or a memory yet to be told, like the laugh lines around my mouth; they are a result of long hours laughing at the silliest of things with my sister and my best friend, laughing so hard that our stomach’s hurt as we struggle to breath. I would not want to get rid of these lines for anything because this is beauty in itself. So, I pose a question, which would you rather have: eternal beauty or an inner beauty that radiates outward?
Basil suggests that there “is a fatality about all physical and intellectual distinction” (45) but I think he is missing the point. Yes we as human beings are vulnerable creatures, but we should not allow our intellect or our physical appearance to keep us in the shadows. We should embrace our differences and our intelligence. These qualities are what make us who we are and without them we would all be the same, doomed to walk in a world without colour, without beauty, and without individuality. I do not think we should live “undisturbed, indifferent, and without disquiet” (45) but rather, we should embrace our unique qualities.
Even though Harry suggests that “being natural is simply a pose” (46), I think that there is something to be said about naturality. By not putting on a mask, or trying to alter onesself by conforming to the ‘ideal’ body image, we are at least staying true to ourselves and not putting on airs to be someone we are not. As Oscar Wilde suggests in The Portrait of Dorian Gray, masks can be deceiving and can lend themselves only as convers for the true self.
I know that in this day and age it is becoming harder and harder to stay true to oneself and not to want to alter your appearance to fit with all those images you see. I have gone through the same thing myself, but as I read Dorian Gray, I find myself thinking more on what it means to be beautiful in my own eyes. As a hobby photographer, I see beauty around me everywhere I go, from the sunrise in the morning to the slightest angle of a tree blowing in the breeze. So why then can I not see beauty in myself? Maybe these ‘ideals’ that are being forced upon us by unknown entities should not be taken as hard concrete rules to be followed. The Portrait of Dorian Gray in a way stands as a warning against undo emphasis on outer beauty. As such, maybe these advertising images of beauty can be used as inspiration so that we can externalize our own inner beauty in a way that stays true to ourselves, so that at the end of the day, our blemishes, wrinkles, and laugh-lines reflect the lives we have lived and the stories we have created.