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Disclosing Dorian Gray’s Identity

Author CaoMengHan
Tutor LiMingQiang
School Yunnan University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Life and Art the Identity of Dorian Gray Freud’s Tripartite Model of the Mind Gothic Duality Realism
Type Master's thesis
Year 2011
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Oscar Wilde is one of the most influential and controversial British writers of the Victorian Age. Even though Wilde has probably been written about more than most nineteenth-century writers, his place and reputation continue to be uncertain. Publication of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in June 1890 had already caused a stir, but its appearance in book form the following year was to have a prodigious effect, provoking a massive amount of media attention and controversy. Despite the generally unfavourable or mixed reviews from most of the literary critics, the novel remains a unique British social document which strikes a responsive chord in succeeding generations of its readers.While this is a novel that readers usually associate with Wilde’s aestheticism, an interpretation of the novel which depends only, or principally, upon the knowledge that Wilde is a literary aesthete limits an exploration of his literary achievement. For all its originality, the identity of Dorian Gray is as nearly a new idea in fiction as one has nowadays a right to expect. Wilde’s creation of the fictional Dorian whose identity eludes fixity demands fresh evaluation of the novel. The identity is closely and appropriately associated with Dorian’s relationships with Basil Hallward, Lord Henry Wotton, and the portrait. This study, therefore, will attempt to show that disclosing Dorian’s identity in the novel can guide the reader to a precise understanding of Wilde’s intention to fictionalise the tension between life and art. In general it can be said that such identification becomes the subject of a far more complex and subtle exploration of Wilde’s realistic creativity in his Picture of Dorian Gray.In this particular case, the dissertation studying Dorian’s multiple identities is divided into three parts, the first of which deals with critical interpretations of the novel, arranged chronologically, and provides resources for further study; the second with Freudian psychoanalytic interpretation of Dorian torn between three possible versions of himself; the last with the Gothic revival of Dorian’s dual identity. In focusing on the particular relation of life and art, especially as this is embedded in Dorian’s identity, the paper argues that Wilde’s novel is a work of realistic design. The novel is indeed a curious network of psychological and Gothic threads. Dorian is the only character in the novel for whom a comprehensive psychological picture is offered. With a sharp psychological eye, Wilde pursues his primary concern with Dorian’s unavailing fight against contradictory impulses between his superego and id and constantly reminds his readers of the importance of healthy ego development:the formation of Dorian’s three identities is to be achieved in relation to the superego, the id, and the ego. Besides successfully adducing psychological features, the novel is also apt to blend Gothic element of duality into the text. The duality of Dorian’s identity in all aspects fascinates, confuses, and blurs the line between life and art, reality and fiction. By narrating the dual identity, the vanished tradition is brought back to life, not as an exotic phenomenon but as an experienced, Gothic element told through the means of Realism. Nonetheless this novel opens up the way to the realistic novels by dramatising the life-and-art tension as the central focus of a novel with responding to two possible explanations—one psychoanalytic and one Gothic.In so doing, Wilde helps release Realism from its confines as a specific literary movement, or a mere reaction against Romanticism that is anchored in time, and glorifies The Picture of Dorian Gray as his unique contribution to the literary history of Realism. The significance of this study lies in the fact that Wilde has attempted to introduce psychoanalytic and Gothic literary techniques into realistic literature. Significantly, Wilde’s experiments with Dorian’s multiple identities have led him to experiment with Realism. The result of the research is that the rediscovery of Dorian’s identity and the reading of Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray have contributed to the revival or have marked the continuity of the realistic period in England.

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