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Homoeroticism and Sexual Oppression in the ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’ Essay Sample

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Homoeroticism and Sexual Oppression in the ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’ Essay Sample



The Victorian Era roughly starting between early 1800’s until 1900 during the reign of Queen Victoria of England, is marked by stern display of moral standards that characterized the elite such as arrogant bigotry, covetousness and materialism, blind faithfulness to social cultures, and prudish nobility. (Moran)  The Victorian era marks the illustrious age of English literature which highlights corruption and imagery in society.  Oscar Wilde, an Irish novelist and one of the most profound authors known today, lived and worked under the Victorian context with strict anti-homosexual conventions. Wilde’s famous novel, “Picture of Dorian” reflects nuances of homoeroticism which is taboo during those times and thus is socially, emotionally, sexually and legally repressed by society.  The Picture of Dorian Gray mirror’s the Wilde’s personal experiences about society’s sensitivity and treatment of homosexuality which the author himself suffered and later got scandalized by his homosexual relationships and sexual encounters with men in real life.

In the novel, there are various homosexual elements that can be found in the characters especially in ramifying the relationships between the male lead characters.  At the core of the novel is the portrait of Dorian Gray, described as an extremely handsome young man, which traditionally is not openly or enthusiastically described by another man.  In modern convention, women are the standards of beauty, not men. Hence, the fact that the picture of Dorian Gray or Dorian Gray himself becomes an object of affection by another man is a manifestation of homoeroticism. However, where there are obvious themes of homoeroticism that can be inferred from the novel, these homoerotic relationships are not explicitly described or revealed by Wilde which reflected the sexual oppression that is extant during that time especially towards gays and homosexuals, which is a feature of the Victorian age.

Summary of the Novel

An artist Basil Hallward, painted a portrait of an exceptionally good looking young man named Dorian Gray. With the influence of Lord Henry Wotton, Basil’s friend, Dorian developed a narcissistic philosophical view that focused on one’s physical beauty.  He wished that his portrait would grow old instead of him so that his real life beauty will not fade away in time.  And it was granted by some gothic mysticism.  Dorian went to about his life and whenever he transgresses; his portrait suffered the aging that was caused by the misery of his sins. Dorian never grew old but his portrait did.

Dorian’s sins often emanates from his egotism or conceitedness.  He abandoned her fiancée, Sibyl Vane, a great beautiful actress, who has lost the talent to act after experiencing for the first time the rue feeling of love from Dorian.  Dorian dumped and broke her heart simply because she lost her talent to act.  Sibyl committed suicide by swallowing a poison before Dorian can reconcile with her.

Out of guilt or rage, Dorian indulged himself with different vices and as he went on in his immorality spree, his portrait reflected the repugnance of his sins as it becomes ugly and horrible. Among the other vile adventures that Dorian did included: murdering Basil, hiding the crime with blackmailed help from Alan Campbell, staying in an opium den, among others.  Despite these, Dorian never grew old but his portrait bore the wretchedness, grief and agony of his wickedness. In a last attempt to rectify his mistakes, Dorian returned to London and tried to have a relationship with Hetty Merton, a beautiful daughter of a vicar. Despite this, the portrait remains horrible and even worse.  Dorian began to lose his mind and confused if he is still capable of true and sincere love or he was merely acting out of mercy for himself or to save his own portrait. In a desperate attempt to see the truth and real about what is right and what is wrong, he decides to end the last remnant of his conscience by stabbing the portrait.  The next day, Dorian’s body, which is now wrinkled and very old was found dead and his portrait reverted back to its original handsome form.

Homoeroticism and Sexual Oppression in the Picture of Dorian Gray

Homoeroticism pertains to the affection or passionate relationship between two people of similar sex such as a male to another male or a female to another female. The use of the name “Dorian” itself connoted homosexuality as it may have been derived from the Dorian Greeks to whom homosexual practices have originated. Dorian Greeks developed tribal initiations as a process for “mechanical implantation of character via semen”.  (Greenberg, p108) Pederasty or sexual relations (i.e. intercourse/ sodomy) between two males are conducted in order to transmit the necessary qualities/ attributes that the trainer would like to inculcate to his recruit.

At the heart of novel is the Dorian Gray, whose controversial story evolved from the intense admiration of two men, Basil and Lord Henry.  While it is natural for men to admire men for their physical attributes, both Basil and Lord Henry took their admiration of Dorian Gray in a homoerotic level. Following this general admiration, both men’s conception of beauty goes beyond the sense of sight but also provides a delightful perception in the sense of intense feeling and affection.  At the onset, Basil in his dialogue with Lord Henry commented that “. I couldn’t be happy if I didn’t see him (Dorian) every day. He is absolutely necessary to me.” (Wilde) And this goes beyond the relationship that builds between the artist and his subject as Basil added that “He is all my art to me now.” (Wilde) This comments reflected that Basil’s admiration to Dorian transcends platonic friendship but that which is identical to man who is fixatedly in love with another man.

On the part of Lord Henry, his interest over Dorian Gray was so strong at the start upon seeing just the portrait painted by Basil.  During their conversations, Lord Henry’s zeal to meet Dorian in person was unnatural for a typical male person to be very eager to meet the subject.  His conversations with Basil even touched about their true friendship just so that Basil will introduce him to Dorian and he would be able to meet Dorian in person.  In meeting Dorian Gray, Lord Henry’s reaction was sort of flirtatious even asking Dorian if he could stay or not.

The start of the novel reflects how these two men seemed to be fighting for Dorian’s attention and interest which eventually was won by Lord Henry through his wits and intellect.  Lord Henry’s praises about Dorian was obscenely obsessive that he suggested that Dorian’s “youth is the one thing worth saving”.  Dorian apparently heeded Lord Henry’s comments and opinion in the course of the story.  Using his sweet yet keen tongue, Lord Henry displayed a desire to sway, win over and even manipulate Dorian, which can be tantamount to courting.  It is apparently not heterosexual to talk about another man’s admiration to another man about his gorgeousness, attractiveness and magnificence in an extensive and passionate manner as if one is wooing a girl.

This is also the point in the novel where Wilde impute innuendos that inverted the socially accepted arrangement of affections in a heterosexual set up and described the kind of romantic relationship that nobody dared to speak of  – the love relationship between two men.  The novel does so by stipulating mundane words of wisdom that challenged conventional marriage.  “The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties” (Wilde).  This is Lord Henry’s reply while discussing about why Basil is hesitant to tell the name of Dorian Gray.  Henry suggested that even if he’s married, he can still play around and in which case, play around with another man.

While both Basil and Lord Henry exhibits homoerotic feelings towards Dorian Gray, their conversations are not sexual but intellectually dogmatic in nature.  This demonstrates that while men have erotic desires towards another man, their Victorian culture restricts them not to overtly act erotically towards another man or openly display their affection to them.

At the course of the story, Basil described Dorian’s friendship as lethal to young men that it caused disgrace and shame to the fathers of the boys whom Dorian had relationships with.   Hence, “many reviewers have no difficulty in viewing Dorian to be gay himself or at least some kind of effeminate youth attractive to gay men.” (Wilde and Page, p16) While these relationships were not described in detail, this suggests that Dorian’s intimate relationships with the boys are more than friendly.  The shame and disgrace that Basil refer to emanates from allegations of homosexual relationships with Dorian Gray which in a heterosexist Victorian society is not only a subject of ridicule but discrimination, loss of social status and spirituality.   Hence, homosexual relations are maintained as a secret.

In one instance, Dorian threatened to divulge his secret relations with a friend as blackmail. He asked Allan Campbell for help in concealing his murder of Basil (by destroying the body) else he will reveal the secret between them through a letter, which he showed to Allan during their meeting. Considering the background and circumstances of Dorian, the letter suggests that Dorian and Allan had an illicit homosexual affair.   Campbell had no choice but help Dorian destroy the body but he is not doing this to save Dorian but to save his face from the humiliation or dishonor if the secret between them is revealed.  Allan commented that, “In doing what I am going to do, what you force me to do, it is not of your life that I am thinking” (but of his). (Wilde) This shows the gravity of suppression in engaging in homosexual relationships that one is forced to become an accessory to crime or commit unlawful acts just so to conceal their sexual preferences and encounters.


Homosexuality and Homoeroticism have long been criticized especially in a Christian oriented Victorian society. More than the social disgrace that homosexuals are condemned to, such sexual preference is considered immoral and evil.  According to the Bible, God only created a man and a woman.  Homosexuals are created with the intervention of the devil. Still later, homosexuality was considered a psychiatric illness.  This antigay sentiment during the Victorian age pertains to an ideological system that rejects, degrades and stereotypes behavior, sexual orientation and relationship identified to homosexuals and bisexuals.  (Herek, G.M., p318). Oscar Wilde’s novel therefore was revolutionary as it included overtones of homoeroticism and homosexuality in the context of a sexually repressive and oppressive society.

Works Cited

Greenberg, David F. The Construction of Homosexuality. 2nd edition.

University of Chicago Press, 1990

Herek, G. M.. The context of anti-gay violence: Notes on cultural and psychological

heterosexism. Journal of Interpersonal Violence (5)3: 1990. 316-333

Moran, Maureen. Victorian literature and culture. Continuum

International Publishing Group, 2006

Wilde, Oscar  and Page, Norman. The picture of Dorian Gray,

Broadview Press, 1998

Wilde, Oscar. The picture of Dorian Gray. Retrieved from:


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