The Use Of Symbols In Wilde

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The Use Of Symbols In Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray Essay, Research Paper THE USE OF SYMBOLS IN OSCAR WILDE’S THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY What is a symbol? In the broadest sense of the word, a symbol can be anything that signifies something else (Peepre: 58). Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure’s dyadic theory of signs can well be applied when talking of literary symbols; after all, symbols are signs and vice versa. Central concepts in Saussure’s theory are signifier and signified, which together constitute the sign itself. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde is playing with these two concepts – signifier and signified – which acquire quite unexpected roles. While it is not the only symbolic element in the novel, the portrait of Dorian Gray is by far the

most obvious and central symbol, the theme, around which the story revolves. It is perhaps the symbol most suitable for closer analysis, although this means having to give other potentially interesting symbols somewhat less attention. Especially interesting of these would be a closer look at Basil Hallward, Lord Henry and Dorian Gray as three different symbolic representations of Wilde’s personality – what he though he was, what the world thought he was, and what he would have wanted to be, respectively, as Terence Dawson suggests in his essay on the subject (Dorian Gray as Symbolic Representation of Wilde’s Personality). In a mad moment of vanity and narcissism, Dorian Gray offers his soul in return for everlasting youth. This is the moment the portrait abandons its static

form, to take a life of its own. But is it still a reflection of Dorian Gray, or is Dorian Gray in fact himself a reflection of the portrait? Has the portrait ceased to be Dorian’s diary, and turned things to the opposite? From the moment Dorian sells his soul, the portrait is no longer a reflection but, in Wilde’s own words, ” something fatal It has a life of its own.” The fact that the portrait knew of the death of Sibyl Vane, even before Dorian himself knew, suggests that the portrait is indeed constructing and influencing Dorian, leading him in a certain direction towards a life filled with perversion and decay of the soul. But what caused this change in Dorian Gray? What made him mutate from the innocent and pure Adonis to the cruel and cold murderer that ” dug the

knife into the great vein that is behind the ear, crushing the man’s head down on the table.”? By selling his soul to the devil, he invited evil into his life – an evil which took the form of Lord Henry, whose radical influence on Dorian was the onset of a chain reaction that was to end only by Dorian’s own hand, some 20 years later. Of the two opposing forces in his life, good and bad, Basil Hallward and Lord Henry, the latter always seemed to have a stronger grip on Dorian, and a definite and final grip after Dorian eliminated the creator of his misery, the one person that urged him to pray in repentance. Certainly, Dorian becomes greatly disturbed by the portrait, by its mere presence in the same room. Not only knowing what he has done, what sins or crimes he has

committed, he has to face them in his portrait each day. When he sees the alterations on the portrait and decides to hide it in his childhood study room, is he repentant? Does he wish he could withdraw his prayer for perpetual beauty, like he does later in the novel: “There is no one with whom I would not change places.”? In essence, when he wraps the portrait in the purple satin coverlet, that ” had perhaps served often as a pall for the dead,” he is wrapping the physical manifestation of his conscience and soul, to bury it in the dusty past of the old study room. At least now he is free to live in ignorance of both the past and the portrait, and continue leading a double life. “And yet the thing would still live on. It would always be alive.” To be able to