In The Picture of Dorian Gray, author Oscar Wilde employs the literary element of symbolism to help us, the audience to see the protagonist Dorian Gray’s transformation from a innocent naïve individual to later a soul marked by secrets and sin. It is also, through symbolism that we see exactly how and what influences Dorian to his destructive path and ultimately his dramatic end. Wilde uses the symbol of the yellow book given to Dorian by Lord Henry as a symbol of the negative influence Lord Henry has over Dorian and a representation as well of what Dorian can eventually become.
For instance Wilde illustrates Dorian’s obsession with the yellow book in an interesting way, this is shown in Chapter 10 when Dorian initially receives the yellow book from Lord Henry. When Dorian opens the book and begins to read the book he becomes so engrossed in its story of about its wealthy protagonist who dedicates his life in seeking aesthetic pleasures, that he loses track of time and is late in meeting up with Lord Henry. The yellow book is described as being a being a bad influence and taking over Dorian making him lose awareness of his surroundings, “It was a poisonous book. The heavy odour of incense seemed to cling about its pages and to trouble the brain. The mere cadence of the sentences, the subtle monotony of their music, so full as it was of complex refrains and movements elaborately repeated, produced in the mind of the lad, as he passed from chapter to chapter, a form of reverie, a malady of dreaming, that made him unconscious of the falling day and creeping shadows.”
From this we begin to see how Dorian’s obsession begins, and also Wilde exemplifies Dorian’s obsession in Chapter 11, when Dorian who is so moved and almost devoted to studying this book that he has nine copies of the book made, “He procured from Paris no less than nine large-paper copies of the first edition, and had them bound in different colours, so that they might suit his various moods and the changing fancies of a nature over which he seemed, at times, to have almost entirely lost control.” In this quote we are able to see how the obsession eventually takes over Dorian as he succumbs to the book in which he believes contains a powerful and fascinating message. Overall one can say that the yellow book sets the stage for Dorian’s downfall and while the book might not directly cause his downfall Dorian allows his obsession with the book and its message to dictate his actions.
Furthermore this kind of obsession can be seen elsewhere in the novel by Basil Hallward and his obsession with Dorian. In the beginning of the novel in Chapter one when asked by Lord Henry why he will exhibit Dorian’s painting he simply states, “I have put too much of myself into it.” Knowing that he has put too much of his adoration and “obsession” of Dorian into his painting Basil refuses to publicize that obsession feeling he has over gone his boundaries as an artist by letting his affection for his subject be shown. In addition to the painting Basil even goes later on to say, “as long as I live, the personality of Dorian Gray will dominate me.” And as the novel progresses we see the relationship between Dorian and Basil become strained but Basil still caring for Dorian defends him in public against the slanderous rumors said about Dorian. To sum up the recurring theme of obsession with beauty shows us how some the characters put beauty on a pedestal and in doing so set the stage for their downfall especially when they let the “obsession” grow too unhealthy that it dominates their lives and impairs their ability to reason or see things clearly. This can eventually lead to one’s downfall.
With this in mind one can say that Oscar Wilde’s position on obsession with beauty is a complex one while placing a huge emphasis that art is to just be admired for its beauty he also states in the preface in the following quote, “We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.” and to end the preface he says “All art is quite useless.” So overall Wilde states that while art is to be appreciated for its beauty, he says that to appreciate and admire something too much renders it to be a useless thing.
So in essence since society admires art intensely or how society holds an obsession with beauty it therefore makes beauty and art useless. But once again it poses a question about Wilde’s position, if art is useless and it is to be only admired for its beauty why do we have art? Since we have art should it not have a least a purpose? Well as much as Wilde’s reasoning causes us to think. I believe that Wilde overall is against obsession with beauty because he feels that it is silly to do so and doing as shown in his novel will eventually lead to one’s demise.