Oscar Wilde: Morality and Ethics

The Picture of Dorian Gray, highlights/stresses Wilde’s own views on the concept of morality and ethics with a careful characterization of Lord Henry and Basil Hallward. There are distinct characteristics that create the aforementioned figures and it’s obvious that Lord Henry and Basil Hallward carry very different qualities. Lord Henry places much emphasis on the idea of pleasure and happiness, sometimes even skewing this idea/definition of happiness, as he influences the morals and viewpoints of Gray. He also distorts the idea of happiness by subtly connecting it with beauty and youth. In other words, Lord Henry interconnects pleasure and beauty while replacing the idea of happiness and morality with such ideas. He states, “Pleasure is the only thing worth having a theory about,” he answered in his slow melodious voice. “But I am afraid I cannot claim my theory as my own. It belongs to Nature, not to me. Pleasure is Nature’s test, her sign of approval. When we are happy, we are always good, but when we are good, we are not always happy.” Lord Henry influences Gray with this hedonistic mindset throughout the novel, one that Hallward is uneasy about. The character of Basil Hallward represents a different look on morality. He is wary of Henry’s cynicism and his influence on Gray and actively voices such concerns. Where Hallward’s sense of morality falters is with his obsession with beauty. He carries a belief in the symbiotism of good and beauty, one that borders on ignorance and such is shown by his continued trust that Dorian Gray’s outwardly beautiful nature represents goodness and ethicality. Hallward states, “mind you, I don’t believe these rumours at all. At least, I can’t believe them when I see you. Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face. It cannot be concealed. People talk sometimes of secret vices. There are no such things. If a wretched man has a vice, it shows itself in the lines of his mouth, the droop of his eyelids, the moulding of his hands even.” Such ignorance or refusal to believe that one could be corrupted and immoral ultimately leads to his abrupt demise.

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