Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde

I think everyone knows this story. I'm pretty sure that even before I read this book, I've already read an abridged version. So we all know how it goes, pretty boy makes a wish to never grow old so his picture grows old instead. Eventually, he stabs the picture and turns into the hideous old man that he really is.

But when I read it, I was struck by one thing: that Dorian Grey isn't the real monster here. And when I thought about the book, I realised another thing: this book really is timeless.

So, thing one - Dorian Grey isn't the real monster. Although Dorian Grey does a lot of terrible thing, like driving a woman to suicide, he was actually a normal, if rather self-centered human, before the whole mess started. The one who corrupted him, and in my view is the real monster, would be Lord Henry. And if you think about it, Dorian Grey does eventually realise his faults, while Lord Henry doesn't. He is the real monster here, because of his influence on Dorian, and his lack of realisation of his sins. In fact, I feel that his role in the novel is rather ambiguous - does his lack of punishment for his sins mean that his philosophy is condoned? The contrast between him and Dorian suggest that the book's message is that the self-awareness of our sins is the real evil. The awareness of the state of his soul is, at the very least, what drove Dorian to his unhappy end.

And then thing two - This book is timeless. We live in a society that's ever increasing obsessed with how we look. If you're pretty and look innocent, you can be excused for a multitude of sins, just like Dorian Grey. Sure, there will be some people who will judge by actions, but what I've found is that for every controversial personality, part of her/her appeal would be his/her looks. There is an instinct that says "looking innocent = innocent". Even though this book was published over a hundred years ago, it still reflects a society very much like our own.

The Picture of Dorian Grey is a prettily written book that made me ponder for a while. It is also in public domain, so you can download it legally here (this is the manybooks link. There's probably a copy at Project Gutenberg too)


  1. I loved it. You should also read The Importance of Being Earnest.


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