Dorian Gray Syndrome a Post Modern Tragedy

For fans of classic literature the name Dorian Gray is intrinsically linked to Oscar Wilde and his fascinating novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. The story tells the tale of a painter named Basil Hallward, who becomes obsessed with a beautiful young man named Dorian Gray. Hallward believes that Gray’s immaculate looks have inspired him to create a new movement in art. One day while sitting for a painting in the painter’s garden, Gray meets a good friend of Hallward’s, Lord Hentry Wotton, who introduces him to all the guilty pleasures of life. Wotton proposes that the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfillment of the senses. Gray’s eye light up as he imagines this new life where rules and boundaries do not apply, and then makes a statement that will forever change his destiny. He declares his wish for aging and sinful behavior to never taint his physical body, but to only mar the portrait of him, which Hallward had been working so diligently on.

“In a climactic end to the saga, Gray ,in a fit of rage, plunges the knife he had used to kill Hallward into the painting of himself.”

Gray gets his wish, and discovers later in life that the painting- which had been hidden away in an old nursery- has been severely marred from his life of immorality, which leaves him distraught. Gray blames his downfall on Hallward and murders him after showing him the severely distorted painting. In the climactic end to the saga, Gray ,in a fit of rate, plunges the knife he had used to kill Hallward into the painting of himself. From outside of the locked room, Gray’s servants hear a hideous shriek and call for the police. When the police enter the room, they find a dead old man, bloated and wrinkled, with a knife in his chest, and a portrait of a beautiful 18 year old man, as perfect as the day Basil Hallward completed it.

Oscar Wilde is known to have lived a life of debauchery. Hard drinking and womanizing, Wilde relied on his own set of moral codes to guide his life, and it eventually led to his early demise. The Picture of Dorian Gray is an ironic mirror of Wilde’s life, and saddens the soul to know the book is not entirely fiction. The story is an astute character study on the typical human who rebels against morality and creates his/her own definition of what is right. Eventually our hearts become blackened and our minds warped, completely desensitized from all of the wrong we have done. Sometimes there are no obvious implications of our wrong doing, much like Dorian Gray wished to have happen. What if, on the other hand, our faces were physically marred each time we did an immoral act. Would we think twice about the way we lived?

This brings to mind an Alfred Hitchcock episode about a dying millionaire and his greedy children, all who have gathered at his residence to claim his fortune after he dies. The man produces 4 masks, each of a grotesque and disfigured human face. He tells the children that they will indeed inherit his fortune, but under one stipulation they must wear the masks until the clock strikes midnight. He distributes the mask, one for each of his children, and they reluctantly wear them. Finally, the clock strikes midnight and the millionaire dies sitting in his armchair. Elated, the children comment on how glad they are that the old man is finally dead, and that they can finally claim what is rightfully theirs. In a moment of truth and sheer terror, they attempt to remove their masks. To the bewilderment of the children and viewer alike, the faces of the 4 children have become deformed to mirror the ugliness of their masks. The moral of the story the children got their wish, but were forced to wear there interior ugliness on the exterior for the rest of their lives.

So many beautiful people are ugly on the inside, and believe that they can hide their true selves from the world. If you had to wear the mask of your heart, what would it look like? Is your interior beautiful, grotesque or maybe slightly disfigured? Rid yourself of Dorian Gray syndrome, and start thinking about how attractive you are, on the inside.