In many forms of literature authors include aspects of their lives and society into their own work. A prime example of this concept is evident in The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. According to a detailed novel on Oscar Wilde’s life called Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture edited by Joseph Bristow, Oscar Wilde was regarded as “one of the most talented essayists and fiction writers of his time.” The legacy Oscar Wilde left in his writings is extremely remarkable, but his personal life and society had a strong influence in how it shaped his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Oscar Wilde's beliefs regarding homosexuality, society’s use of Opium, and appearance all seemingly had a major influence into constructing the way the novel is written.
During the 19th century, the use of dangerous drugs such as Opium plagued much of Europe, especially Britain. The outbreak on the constant use of Opium eventually even caused an extensive conflict between China and The United Kingdom. After China denied The United Kingdom’s importation of Opium “the British declared war and sailed their military fleet to Canton, arriving in June of 1840” (UXL Encyclopedia of Drugs and Addictive Substances). Relating to Oscar Wilde’s life, he himself was a user of Opium just like a numerous of other people in Britain during the 19th century. During this time, “a number of famous people used or became addicted to opium, including writers who used opium while seeking to enhance creativity, imagination, and spontaneity” (Blachford and Krapp). Due to Wilde’s experiences with Opium and his strong passion of declaring what is wrong with society, I presume that Opium had a strong influence on the plot and themes in the book. In the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, the main character Dorian visits an Opium den after killing Basil “to cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul” (pg.189). I believe that in this sense visiting the Opium den and opium itself represents Dorian’s sinful actions and a degradation of his mental state because he is trying to find a cure to forget about his iniquitous actions that lead him to this state. When it comes to the theme of good versus evil that Wilde incorporated in the book, Dorian chooses the side of evil by being influenced by Lord Henry and it lead to a path of doing such drugs like Opium, which makes Dorian an immoral and sinful character which is what Wilde wanted to portray about the drug itself and society.
Furthermore into Oscar Wilde’s personal life, homosexuality may have played an important role in creating the plot and developing the theme of appearance. In 1895, Oscar Wilde was arrested for “committing homosexual acts” (Nayeri) after being targeted for having an affair. “His friends, family and audience largely avoided him and his children changed their family name to avoid being linked” (Anderson). After reading The Picture of Dorian Gray one can easily spot the homosexual undertones of the novel. For instance on page 6 Basil claims to Henry that when he “likes people immensely I never tell their names to anyone. It is like surrendering a part of them. I have grown to love secrecy.” In the quote, the “secrecy” that Basil claims to have may be that Basil has a secret attraction or admiration for Dorian. Also one can notice that in the book Alan Campbell, the scientist Dorian hires to get rid of Basil’s dead body, was being forced to do the deed using science unless he wanted to be exposed by Dorian about something that was never revealed. Campbell’s secret may had something to do with him being a homosexual. Living in London in the 1800s being considered a homosexual was extremely unsuitable and most men who were gay probably kept it hidden due to the fact that they may be harshly discriminated or scrutinized. So Campbell’s secret may have been that he was gay because he did not want to be exposed to society, especially with his renowned status for being a scientist, which could relate to Wilde's high status in society. This part in the story may have been influenced by Wilde’s personal life because of the “frequent blackmailing, harassment, arrest, and imprisonment of gay men particular rendered the story of Oscar Wilde” (Stetz). When it comes to the theme of appearance, Dorian’s beauty is what secretly attracts Basil and Lord Henry towards him. While it never specifically claims that the love for Dorian is present, it is easy to suggest that it exists. Wilde utilizes the beautiful appearance of Dorian to help depict why Basil and Lord Henry have a concealed attraction towards Dorian. Wilde himself had “male partners” (Stetz) in real life and maybe he used them secretly in the book as a way of relating to Basil and Henry’s attraction towards Dorian, which represents Wilde himself and his own appearance. The fact that Wilde had “male partners” (Stetz) that admired him, influences the novel to which Basil and Lord Henry have a secret attraction towards Dorian.
In summary, many writers and poets around the world consolidate their beliefs and personal events into the work they create. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is no exception. There are many influences in Wilde’s personal life that helps shape the book’s plot and themes. Oscar Wilde’s use of opium and his homosexuality both configure the book’s plot and themes that are present in order to create the full story he intended. Wilde’s decision to incorporate Opium into the novel reveals his beliefs about the drug and his extensive use of it and Wilde’s decision to add minor homosexual things in the book because of his own sexuality beliefs reveals his intention of exhibiting the hardship that homosexual men had to endure during the 19th century in Britain.
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