17 February 2014
Dorian Gray: A Zombie of Fine Sensibilities
To describe the walking dead all of the following apply: soulless, insatiable hunger, actions based purely on instinct; these qualities combined, with or without the rotting flesh, make a zombie but also can be readily applied to the main character of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. The novel analyzes the value of beauty and pleasure and poses a very interesting contradiction between the traditional views of morality and quality of life. Dorian, an aesthetic young man, is tempted into vice, thus selling his soul for eternal beauty. In the late 19th century, Saul Kripke: a philosopher, proposed the idea of philosophical zombies. His theory proposed a creature visually and behaviorally the same as a human being that lacks qualia, soul and sentience (Kirk 2). While it is easy for readers to simply write Dorian’s worsening acts of societally rejected behaviors as immoral, it can be argued that the protagonist had no concept of morals to begin with, and thus learns the public’s immoral as moral and vice versa. In the preface of the novel, Wilde asserts that “There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all” (3). This is a statement that is good to be kept in mind when analyzing the main character’s actions. Subtly, through a number of literary devices – namely characterization, archetypes, and motifs – Wilde forces the reader to experience life in all its glory as well as shame through a zombie’s eyes. To properly analyze the character of Dorian Gray it must first be understood that there is a distinct difference between someone who lacks morals and someone that is immoral; the first is deficient in the qualia that give the concepts of right or wrong, and the second is someone who knows the difference and chooses to act immorally. Dorian Gray is the prior. Upon meeting Dorian, Lord Henry immediately observes “All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth's passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world. No wonder Basil Hallward worshipped him” (Wilde 17), the most important word being purity. Dorian does not have a sense of right or wrong at the beginning of the novel because he simply looks onto the world. It is not reflected on him in anyway because Dorian is, in short, in capable of perceiving on his own, lacking the sentience to do so. He simply does, drifting from (presumably) male figure to male figure seeking some sort of attention and guidance; he does not act, he only responds to the world around him. Basil Hallward, a painter, admires Dorian for his beauty – but it is neither the scarlet lips nor the golden hair that attracts him but rather the blankness of his soul, and that is the first hint that our protagonist is, in fact, as zombie. Basil tells Lord Henry, “Dorian Gray is to me simply a motive in art. You might see nothing in him. I see everything in him. He is never more present in my work than when no image of him is there” (Wilde 13). Henry will see nothing because nothing is present. He is a walking piece of art, thoughtless, though responding as human might and that is what attracts both Basil Hallward and Lord Henry to Dorian like moths to light. His personality is something that cannot be comprehended by either man, because it lacks the components of personality to begin with. However, as all great novels require a plot, Henry seeks to color the boy’s snow white mind with qualia of the darkest shades, and while doing so, readers begin notice the distinct difference between Dorian and his human friends. This novel is full of archetypes. From inanimate ones, such as the winding staircase in Dorian’s home that represents the journey of life or the tower in which the protagonist hides his decaying portrait that represents the depth of the human soul, to living...
Cited: Kirk, Robert. "Zombies", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2012/entries/zombies/
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. London: Ward, Lock & Company, 1891. Print.
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