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The picture of dorian gray use of mirrors essay

Identity and Artificiality by Alessia Mingrone Personal identity is a recurring theme throughout literature, as in life. Around this time, the Aesthetic and Decadent movements were taking place in Europe.

Both of the aforementioned texts use the motifs of mirrors and masks in order to emphasize the instability and artificiality of identity. On the surface, these novels may seem to advocate insincerity, but, as one analyzes each protagonist, the question becomes whether their masks act simply as superficial pseudo-identities or whether they reveal something more about the dissolution of the ego.

The Decadent Aesthetic The Decadent movement set out to make a strong statement regarding cultural degeneration. Traditional notions of beauty and goodness were displaced by aestheticism, which privileged the artificial and the grotesque.

In her discussion of ethics and aesthetics, Moriah Hampton explains: Particularly in England, strict, repressive ideals of nineteenth century morality stimulated the literary and cultural Decadent movement. In contrast to the notion of moral idealism, Kant contends in the Analytic of the Beautiful that beauty must be experienced aesthetically, and not logically. Therefore, the purposelessness of art relies on a purely sensory experience that is not ruled by morality.

With the emphasis on the aesthetic, appearance becomes a substitute, but not equivalent to reality both in art as well as in the social sphere. This may appear superficial and insincere, but it turns out to be the defense mechanism of the Decadent protagonist. As the narrator questions in The Picture of Dorian Gray: Deceitfulness typically carries a stigma in society and is regarded as a vice.

The Ego On a psychological level, the turn to Decadent Aestheticism can be equated to the ego grappling with the severity of the super-ego. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and a contemporary of both Wilde and Pirandello, coined the idea of the ego.

  • Having this concrete mirror of his soul forces Dorian to face his actions, listen to his super-ego and attempt to modify his behavior toward the end of the novel;
  • Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and a contemporary of both Wilde and Pirandello, coined the idea of the ego;
  • Although the ending appears to be rather hopeful, the tragic aspect is that he forgoes being himself, and simply morphs into the outside world;
  • Reflecting the same values of the Aesthetic movement, Dorian himself ends up privileging surface over substance, which relegates his understanding of identity to a binary model.

According to his theory, the self is composed of the ego, the id, and the super-ego. The id is the repository and expression of basic desires, while the superego is a disciplinary, repressive force. The ego attempts to mediate between these two extremes in order to create a well-balanced individual. A problem arises when the ego is incapable of balancing out the pressures either from the id, which are typically internal, or from the super-ego, oftentimes external. Throughout the novel, Lord Henry, who is by far the most libertine character, decries the prohibition imposed by the super-ego in the Victorian era: They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to oneself.

Within the rigid framework of nineteenth-century British society, both historically as well as in the novel, the individual felt a tremendous amount of pressure to play the part of the dutiful citizen and to respect strict moral codes.

Lord Henry reprehends the tendency of people to allow society to dictate their behaviors. The decadent protagonist experiences distress living in society, yet he or she cannot escape its pressures. Reflecting on his own ego, Dorian Gray readily points out its instability. Once he gets to know Lord Henry, he learns about the Decadent Aesthetic and the philosophy of Hedonism.

Dorian describes himself, and philosophizes man in general, as leading multiple different lives. The rupture of the ego is key to understanding the decadent aesthetic that the text advocates. At this early point in the novel, Dorian feels liberated by this new realization, without truly comprehending its implications. Dorian goes from appreciating the sense of freedom afforded by his fragmented ego to discovering a deadly sense of duality within himself.

His obsession with his own appearance in the portrait is reminiscent of the myth of Narcissus. Reflecting the same values of the Aesthetic movement, Dorian himself ends up privileging surface over substance, which relegates his understanding of identity to a binary model. The emerging sense of duality is illustrated both in a thematic sense as well as concretely in the portrait. Dorian becomes paranoid about hiding the picture, while revealing to society only his flawless appearance.

Dorian Gray and the Mirror of the Soul A prominent psychologist who contributed to the understanding of the fragmented self is Jacques Lacan. He introduced the idea of the mirror stage, during which the ego is formed by a process of objectification. Like Freud, Lacan believes the ego to be a site of conflict. The corporal and the unconscious are in a state of contradiction as the ego begins to take shape. The mirror stage also develops the Ideal-I, the picture of dorian gray use of mirrors essay Situates the agency of the ego, before its social determination, in a fictional direction, which will always remain irreducible for the individual alone, or rather, the picture of dorian gray use of mirrors essay will only rejoin the coming-into-being le devenir of the subject asymptotically, whatever the success of the dialectical syntheses by which he must resolve as I his discordance with his own reality.

Lacan 406 The term asymptotic here refers to a line that curves toward but never quite reaches the limit, indicating infinity, and therefore the impossibility of realizing the object of desire.

This object is in fact the whole mirror image that the child wishes to preserve. The results are a lifelong alienation from the self and a constant desire for identification. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul. Over the eighteen years that transpire after the beginning of the novel, Dorian performs many acts that his superego recognizes as sinful, including the murder of Basil Hallward, the artist who had painted his portrait.

Each time Dorian commits a sin, the picture manifests a subtle sign of decay, until it eventually becomes hideous. The portrait is supposed to be flawless as his own body decays, but here the roles are reversed.

The picture of dorian gray use of mirrors essay

Having this concrete mirror of his soul forces Dorian to face his actions, listen to his super-ego and attempt to modify his behavior toward the end of the novel. Thus, he comes to terms with his decadent acts by reinforcing moral norms. In the penultimate chapter, Dorian admits to Lord Henry: I am not going to do any more.

Dorian regrets his lifestyle replete with sensual pleasures and disregard for morality. However, it is too little too late for him; he has strayed so far from the norms of society that he can no longer have any hope of fitting back in.

A journal in comparative literature

At this point in the novel, it becomes clear that the portrait is an embodiment of moral codes imposed by society, in other words: As Hampton puts it: This censure is exactly what takes place as the portrait haunts Dorian a little more each time he transgresses moral and civil laws; his super-ego is vying for control over his actions, while he consciously aims only to preserve his beauty.

The severity of the super-ego suggests that the portrait reveals what society deems as truth, which is what ultimately destroys Dorian. Falsehood is, for Wilde, a conscious coping mechanism, which protects the individual from the incessant pressures of society. During his last moments, Dorian realizes that his beauty represents artificiality, while the ugliness of his portrait forces him to face reality.

The act of shattering this mirror represents his awareness of and attempt to rid himself of the Ideal-I, the imaginary axis, the mask he had been wearing to fool society into believing, as he himself wished to believe, that he is a whole entity. When he realizes that he cannot shed his mask, he decides to destroy the portrait, indicating that he wishes to sever his dependence on society.

However, because it is impossible to live in the world without the unconscious and language, or as Lacan puts it, the symbolic axis, Dorian ultimately takes his own life by stabbing the picture.

His death reveals the inextricable and paradoxical dependence between the imaginary and the symbolic axes. An individual will never be able to reconcile his or her bodily image with the unconscious, yet he or she needs both in order to survive. A transition begins to take place in literature, which would eventually result in protagonists who experience the multiplicitous fragmentation of the ego, something Wilde only alludes to at certain points in The Picture of Dorian Gray. The novel tells the story of Vitangelo Moscarda, who begins to question the authenticity of his identity as a result of a mundane conversation with his wife.

The first sentence of the novel describes Vitangelo looking at himself in the mirror. His wife comments that his nose is tilted, which leads the protagonist to ponder extensively questions of identity and perception.

Up to that moment in his life, he had been convinced of having a decent, if not attractive nose. First of all, he decides that he must know himself as a stranger from the outside by observing himself repeatedly in the mirror.

Vitangelo explains his experience: As he observes himself in the mirror, every one of his movements appears phony and distorted. At one point, he even states that his madness is as clear as a polished mirror and comes to the seemingly obvious realization that, as long as he inhabits his body, he will never be able to see himself as others do. After having exercised his madness through various social experiments, Vitangelo realizes that every person he has come into contact with has assigned to him a unique identity, none of which matches his private self-understanding.

Vitangelo reflects on the agony of feeling alienated from his own body. He likens himself to a sightless man surrendering a part of himself the picture of dorian gray use of mirrors essay each person he comes into contact with.

He genuinely desires to understand how others view him from the outside, which is impossible given that he inhabits his own body. What Dorian and Vitangelo have in common, though, is that they both desire to be viewed, and to view themselves as whole. Dorian wishes to appear as perfect as his portrait, while Vitangelo seeks to gain a holistic understanding of who he is in every social situation. Throughout the texts, it becomes clear that both ideals are unattainable.

Ironically enough, the more Vitangelo consciously works at constructing a comprehensive understanding of himself, the more he realizes that he has an infinite number of identities. Matteo Magrini, who discusses both Wilde and Pirandello in his article, explains: Vitangelo possesses one understanding of himself as a whole entity as reflected in the mirror at the beginning of the novel.

At the same time, he is no one because he is alienated from himself. Without a sense of self-identity, a person is essentially just one of billions, like we perceive ants. Finally, he is one hundred thousand because of the multitude of strangers he interacts with every day, each of whom takes a different aspect of him to be his true identity.

The multiplicity of roles he enacts grows each time he is put in a different social context. Given this understanding of identity, it is no wonder why Vitangelo feels so fragmented and miserable; he simultaneously views himself as one, no one, and one hundred thousand.

In the same vein, another prominent psychoanalyst of the twentieth century, Carl Jung, defines the act of playing different parts depending on social context with the word persona.

  • In Latin, this term originally meant the theatrical mask worn by actors to indicate their role in a play;
  • Identity and Artificiality by Alessia Mingrone Personal identity is a recurring theme throughout literature, as in life;
  • To know oneself is to die;
  • Ironically enough, the more Vitangelo consciously works at constructing a comprehensive understanding of himself, the more he realizes that he has an infinite number of identities;
  • All bracketed English translations are my own.

In Latin, this term originally meant the theatrical mask worn by actors to indicate their role in a play. Whereas one might initially assume that the persona is something individual, Jung emphasizes that it is a vehicle through which the collective psyche speaks. When an individual assumes a persona, or adopts a persona that others have imposed on him or her, one of the resulting side effects is identity fragmentation.

If the persona were a completely deployable costume that one could seamlessly put on and take off, it would function exclusively as a mediator between the individual and society. However, even in their multiplicity, different personas are interconnected because they coexist within the same body. These both contribute to forming the ego, and they inevitably end up overlapping and influencing each other, blurring the line between reality and artificiality.

Quando uno vive, vive e non si vede. When one lives, he lives and does not see himself. To know oneself is to die.