The Act of Looking: Salome

It’s interesting reading Oscar Wilde’s Salome as we see once more, a theme of physical attractiveness and beauty. There has been a similar theme with The Picture of Dorian Gray in the sense that Gray carries an obsession with preserving his beautiful physical appearance. However, there lies a difference in the direction of the plot and such themes, as Salome carries a much darker lesson/theme of finding pleasure in viewing or looking at beauty. There is a revolution of this theme, with Syrian and Herod’s somewhat sickening lust for Salome which ultimately results in Syrian’s own suicide as well as Herod’s fall as well as murder of Salome. Salome’s obsession with Jokanaan also depicts a similar obsession with viewing and physical obsession. It seems that Wilde is criticizing the action or tendency to view others; finding pleasure in viewing others is often what brings a character’s downfall in this story. Perhaps such is a reflection of his own experience as a homosexual man living in a publicized life. It seems that Wilde is warning against the action of looking; it makes us wonder whether Wilde was warning against what seems to be a harmless activity anyone, homosexuals and heterosexuals alike, could take part in. Wilde writes, “Neither at things, nor at people should one look. Only in mirrors should one look, for mirrors do but show us masks.” Such once again, accentuates this warning against “viewing.” As a whole, the text of Salome, along with Oscar Wilde and his history, portrays the dangers of looking as the action of looking could very well, in many cases, result in much more for such a harmless act.

One thought on “The Act of Looking: Salome”

  1. Your final quote about how one should only look in mirrors provides another dimension for how to analyze the act of looking in Salomé. We discussed in class with Professor Taylor how the moon in the play symbolizes not only surveillance but reflection. Instead interpreting the danger in looking as discovering what is evil or pursuing wicked desires, perhaps the danger in looking in the play is that characters see their own immorality reflected back to them. Once Herod watches Salomé perform the Dance of the Seven Veils, he is horrified by her true desires for the head of Jokonaan. However, we could read his horror as a response to the recognition of his own immorality that brought about the downfall of both Salomé and himself. The same applies to Salomé’s downfall after she looks into the eyes of Jokonaan’s head. While Jokonaan represents the prophet and voice of judgement in the play, it is Salomé that drives forward her own downfall. The darkness of his eyes reflect the darkness of death that she will soon face.

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