In the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Dorian Gray undertakes a life of new hedonism after it is espoused by Lord Henry Wotton (Wilde 94). This new hedonism values pleasure and beauty above all else and drives Dorians desire to stay youthful and beautiful forever. Dorian Grays pursuit of the hedonistic lifestyle brings harm to those around him, as it promotes the idea of living solely for oneself and ones own pleasure. While the tenets of this philosophy do not inherently cause destruction, it is the only possible result of coupling new hedonism with Dorian Grays personality and beliefs. Gray was temporarily saved from consequences of his actions and having to confront what he was becoming due to the painting bearing the hideousness of his sins, in turn letting his hedonistic lifestyle continue without the limits of conscience. As a result of Dorian Grays shallow beliefs and temporary absolution of his sins due to the painting, he could not have pursued a life following the philosophical principles of new hedonism without the negative ramifications.
A main factor contributing to the destructive nature of Dorian Grays hedonistic lifestyle is that it was driven by his beliefs grounded in aestheticism or art for arts sake. This philosophy is endorsed heavily by Lord Henry, in that he says Beauty is a form of genius – is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation (Wilde 93). Dorian Gray is greatly influenced by Lord Henrys ideas and subsequently begins to believe that retaining his youth and beauty is all important, Lord Henry is perfectly right. Youth is the only thing worth having (Wilde 100). Dorian Grays new motivation is expertly shown when he becomes jealous of the painting of himself as why should it keep what I must lose? (Wilde 100). Therefore, Dorians pursuit in his new hedonistic lifestyle is beauty and the pleasure from beauty, ultimately causing pain to others. This suffering he inflicts onto others is shown through Dorian Grays shallow relationship with actress Sibyl Vane. Though engaged, Dorians love for her is based entirely on her looks and talent as an actress, her art. However, when she decides she cannot act anymore because Dorian is more to me than all art can ever be, Dorian rejects her. (Wilde 196). Due to his aestheticism, Dorian cannot understand her underlying motives and only sees her now ugly art. The destructive nature of aestheticism coupled with hedonism comes through when Dorian rejects her and says without your art, you are nothing, consequently resulting in her suicide (Wilde 197).
Dorian Grays shallow wish to be youthful and beautiful forever while his portrait ages escalates Grays hedonistic lifestyle to extreme heights in turn increasing the destruction and pain wrought on himself and others. As a result of the portrait becoming representative of the corruption of Dorians soul while he himself remains unmarred and beautiful, it effectively hides his sins. Dorian even hides his sins from himself, as he drew a large screen right in front of the portrait, shuddering as he glanced at it (Wilde 205). Through this Dorian never has to confront himself or his actions and can temporarily escape consequences leading to the destructiveness of his hedonism to be unchecked and uncontrolled by conscience. Since Dorian and many others at the time saw external beauty as a reflection of the soul, Dorian is able to get away with countless misdemeanors as his portrait bears the ugliness of his sins for him. Basil tells Dorian that, with your bright, innocent face, and untroubled youth- I cant believe anything against you (Wilde 294). This is especially ironic as Dorian shortly thereafter murders Basil after showing him the portrait, expertly showing just how destructive Dorian has and can become, on his pursuit for pleasure, due to the portrait bearing his sins for him. Dorians external self not reflecting his sins leads Dorian to not be able to accept blame and responsibility for those same sins. Dorian believes it was the portrait that had done everything and writes off things such as Alan Campbells suicide as being entirely his [Campbells] own act (Wilde 408). Basils murder at the hands of Dorian Gray expertly expounds this idea, because he felt as though it had been suggested to him by the image on the canvas (Wilde 307). Through this Dorian personifies the portrait into a living being for him to project all his sins onto while, he believes, remaining blameless himself. Due to his unwillingness to accept responsibility, Dorian therefore, cannot truly change his ways or be forgiven leading to only further escalations of debauchery and pain perpetrated against not only others but himself as he further corrupts his own soul.
Dorian Grays desperate avoidance of sacrificing any experience and his desire to remain a paragon of beauty, as he lived a life of hedonism, had disastrous consequences on himself and those around him. The intention of Grays life of debauchery was to be experience itself and to pursue pleasure at all costs while experiencing all that life has to offer. (Wilde 265 ). However, due to his aestheticism and shallow nature, where he lived a life in search of beauty without regard for morals, he actually caused harm to those around him and his own soul, leading to his eventual downfall. His soul, because it was represented by the painting, was hidden away, allowing the dissociation of his physical self from his soul. Because of this, Dorian was not forced to confront its hideousness and sinful nature until it was too late, all the while living a life of destruction and debauchery. Through the hideous acts of the beautiful Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde, who was a prominent follower of aestheticism, explores the idea that beauty is art for arts sake in that there is no underlying meaning. Dorian Grays beauty was not reflective of his corrupted and hideous soul implying that external beauty should not be equated with goodness or any other hidden moral as beauty has no other reason or cause than to be beautiful.
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