If Looks Could Kill

After taking a deeper look into the man behind the works we have been reading this semester, it was interesting to read Salomé, which is all about the act of looking and the consequences of taking pleasure in that looking. Already, this connects back to Wilde and his wild life as a homosexual man constantly in the spotlight for his curious actions. In the play, the consequence of those guilty of taking pleasure in looking at others is ultimately death. The young Syrian cannot resist his lustful looks at Salomé and kills himself when he cannot take her lust for Jokanaan. The investment in his looking seals his fate, but when he dies no one takes care except for the page, who with trademark Wilde style, laments him heavy homoerotic undertones. The other man who falls prey to looking at Salomé is Herod. His incestuous lust for her leads him to the execution of Jokanaan to satisfy Salomé. Being so obsessed with looking at her, he does not realize the consequences of promising her anything she wanted. The culmination of looking comes with Salomé’s disgusting lust for Jokanaan resulting with her kissing the severed head of the prophet. Focusing on this voyeuristic idea of looking, we can see how this reflects Wilde’s own life being sexually attracted to men. Even though looking seems like a passive activity, there is discomfort when that lustful look is focused on someone who society deems you should not be attracted to. Of course this play was written before Wilde ever went to prison, but we can see the consequences of looking which leads to fatal action. In general, looking is the only activity a homosexual person can enjoy without being immediately judged for their desires since there’s no harm in looking. But here we see Wilde highlighting how there is harm in looking. Once we start, there’s no stopping and the desire for something will grow until it must be acted on. We see this not only in the play, but reflected in the events of Wilde’s life being imprisoned for gross indecency. By sticking a foot in the door, Pandora’s box is effectively opened and you must be prepared to face the consequences. Wilde could not deny who he was, and because he was determined to be himself he was arrested. There is harm in a look because a look always leads to something more. Salomé reveals to us the danger of taking a peek into the more curious parts of life.

3 thoughts on “If Looks Could Kill”

  1. Very interesting stuff here. In my opinion, the play represents Wilde toeing the line between lashing out at the society which condemns his choice of sexual relationships, and recognizing the intense pain and suffering that can come about from misplaced lust. Though Wilde certainly never apologized for who he was, I find it hard to believe that he wasn’t aware of the ramifications of his actions on those closest to him, and likely felt at least some form of regret. I think some of that regret is expressed in these pages.

  2. I also find the implications of gaze that you mention very interesting, although I see more of a distinction between the gazes of The Young Syrian and Herod. While The Young Syrian’s gaze brings up themes of sexual desire that can relate to Wilde’s life, I believe that Herod’s gaze is more indicative of the panopticon and the outside world looking in on the homosexual experience. While Salomé seems to be okay being looked upon by The Young Syrian, she is not okay being looked upon by Herod, and even leaves the party to avoid his gaze. And though Herod’s gaze is fueled by sexual desire, when he finally sees Salomé’s true nature, he is disgusted and afraid, and orders her to be killed.

    1. Your perspective on Herod’s gaze is one that I hadn’t considered. I find it interesting that Herodias spends so much time trying to convince Salomé not to dance for Herod, as if she has insider information that Salomé does not. Salomé does not listen to her mother, and ends up dead because of it.
      I saw Herod’s decision to kill Salomé to be motivated by regret at his own looking. When he realizes what he has promised to do, he says, “I have looked at you too much. But I will look at you no more” (601). That line makes me think that some of the dangerous looking that is discussed in the original post does refer to the way in which Herod looks at Salomé. He regrets his own desire to look just as much as he regrets what Salomé wants him to do.

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