The Picture of Dorian Gray

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray: Motifs 1 key example

Definition of Motif
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the central themes of a book... read full definition
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the... read full definition
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of... read full definition
Chapter 1
Explanation and Analysis—Homoeroticism :

Homoeroticism infuses the plot of The Portrait of Dorian Gray, particularly in Wilde’s characterization of Dorian’s beauty and his portrayal of Basil’s perception of this beauty:

Oh, I can’t explain. When I like people immensely, I never tell their names to any one. It is like surrendering a part of them. I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvellous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it.

In this passage, Basil explains his reluctance to reveal Dorian's name to Lord Henry because of his attachment to the former's beauty. Wilde pays careful attention to the presence of extravagance and beauty throughout his novel—in architecture, in furnishings, even in turns of phrase and clever conversation—to a decidedly indulgent and sensual degree. This is a major feature of the literature of aestheticism, and it follows that Dorian’s visage is the subject of particularly lavish scrutiny. That there might be a homoerotic component to depictions of Dorian Gray is evidenced by Basil’s extreme praise on multiple occasions. When Lord Henry asks the painter why he refuses to display Dorian’s portrait, he explains:

I have put into it some expression of all this curious artistic idolatry, of which, of course, I have never cared to speak to him. He knows nothing about it. He shall never know anything about it. But the world might guess it, and I will not bare my soul to their shallow prying eyes. My heart shall never be put under their microscope. There is too much of myself in the thing, Harry—too much of myself!

As this passage reveals, Dorian’s beauty is not simply a matter of Basil’s painterly gaze: it is a matter of his very heart and soul. Basil carries a love for Dorian, to the extent that he would refuse to display his painting of Dorian—despite the painting’s own extreme beauty—for fear of revealing “too much” of himself.

It is no coincidence that Henry himself should repeatedly describe Dorian in terms of legendary classical depictions of beauty: to Henry’s eyes, Dorian is like a Greek marble statue, a veritable Adonis or Narcissus. Classical Greece is famous for the way it built homoeroticism into the educational and political systems, and to evoke Dorian’s appearance as a figure of classical beauty is also to evoke that beauty as an object of lust.