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The Issue of Gender in Dorian Gray

A few years ago I attended a Bible college and I had an instructor who was, probably the most sexist person I had ever met. He told us one day in class that our country began to go down hill when women were given the right to vote. His explanation was that women only voted for the guy they thought was handsome. Now, I'm not beginning this blog with this little tidbit to get any one riled up, I'm going to make a point with it. I did in fact, at first, get riled up myself, but then I realized how absurd this man's statement was. It was ridiculous because men and women are both attracted to beauty, granted I don't know a lot of men who will admit that they find another man attractive, but they do. This isn't a sign of homosexuality. It is the natural inclination to see and appreciate beauty and this is what I think happens throughout Dorian Gray.

Oscar Wilde does a brilliant job, of taking what comes naturally, the attraction to beauty, and creating characters who so convincingly take extremes in order to be close to it. Dorian is the central focus of what is considered absolute beauty. Today it is customary to have a woman as the focal point of this type of attraction. Everyone who comes into contact with Dorian is affected by him in some way.

It begins with the Basil Hallward's attraction to Dorian. It is his painting and his description of Dorian's beauty that intrigues Lord Henry Wotton. He tells Henry of the first time he met Dorian: " I turned half-way round, and saw Dorian Gray for the first time. When our eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me, I knew that I had come face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself." (8)
Dorian becomes the icon of beauty in the artist's mind. There is something so overwhelming about him that Hallward becomes obsessed with painting his portrait and may even be falling in love with Dorian. He confesses to Henry and then later in the story to Dorian that: "from the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary power over me. I was dominated, soul, brain, and power, by you. I worshiped you. I grew jealous of every one to whom you spoke. I wanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy when I was with you. When you were away from me you were still present in my art..." (117)
Dorian becomes the obsession of everyone. Lord Henry has an inclination towards all that is beautiful and material in the world, so he naturally gravitates toward Dorian. The only difference is instead of worshiping Dorian the way Hallward does, Henry becomes a teacher, of sorts, to Dorian. He is the one who convinces Dorian that all he needs in life is to keep his youth and beauty and he will always be loved. This of course is a lie, because later on in the story those around Dorian find themselves steeped in corruption or they begin to find fault in him, though they never have proof that he has done wrong.

Dorian is the central figure of the story, everyone else live their lives around him. They all strive to be with him in some way. The women fall in love with him and the men want to be in his company. Dorian becomes the feminine figure in the story. Though there are women in the story it is Dorian who is lavished upon, it is Dorian that all care for, and it is Dorian who destroys and dashes men's hopes and dreams, not the women. The women in the story are used more like window dressing. They are only there to facilitate a need to show the well-rounded beauty of Dorian Gray. It is not just a group of men who sit around and pine for this Narrcissus, it is also the women. And like Narcissus, Dorian treats all who love him cruelly and is really only obsessed with his own beauty and with the silent destruction of that beauty in the portrait. Sibyl Vane takes her own life because Dorian can not have what he wants from her, which is perfection in her acting, a beauty that can stand with his own.

It is not necessary to dwell on the homosexual references that are throughout this book to investigate the love men have for one another. Men can and are attracted to beauty the same as women. Dorian is the proves this in the story. Dorian is the ideal. I think that this story could have been told just as effectually without the female characters as it was with them. Wilde brilliantly established Dorian in that feminine role and allowed him to take over where the women would have been.

Comments (1)

Wow, Mara! This is quite excellent; I like your balanced viewpoint. The story of the sexist statement by a teacher really illustrated your position well. Just as he does so bluntly (nay, artfully) in his prologue to the story, in the novella Wilde seems to be treating the object of beauty (Dorian) as a way to make a comment about art (as in his prologue) and the role of the "sublime" (or is it "uncanny"?) in beauty. Well-done.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 25, 2009 2:49 PM.

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