In Oscar Wilde’s novel, “The Picture Of Dorian Gray,” Dorian Gray is the subject of a full-length portrait in oil by Basil Hallward, an artist who is impressed and infatuated by Dorian’s beauty. He believes that Dorian’s beauty is responsible for the new mode in his art as a painter. Through Basil, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, and he soon is enthralled by the aristocrat’s hedonistic worldview: that beauty and sensual fulfilment are the only things worth pursuing in life.
Newly understanding that his beauty will fade, Dorian expresses the desire to sell his soul, to ensure that the picture, rather than he, will age and fade. The wish is granted, and Dorian pursues a libertine life of varied and amoral experiences, while staying young and beautiful; all the while his portrait ages and records every soul-corrupting sin.
Those who know him become puzzled, as the passing years that taint with grey and thin the hair, while adding creases to the face, seem to have overlooked Dorian. He is as unchanged as is his portrait. Yet, when he ends his engagement to his fiancée, so that he can become fully engaged in his life of debauchery, he notices a hint of cruelty evident on his image in the portrait.
Basil, in time, confronts Dorian in regard to his distasteful self-indulgent life-style, which Dorian does not deny. Basil inquires why the portrait of Dorian is not on display. Dorian then takes him to an oft not used room where he has locked the portrait away. On seeing it Basil is horrified and bewildered by the grotesque figure that had replaced his once beautiful subject. The lustful vices willfully practiced by Dorian had mutated the portrait to its present state. The distorted portrait of the man, in fact, had become the picture of his soul. Dorian blames his fate on Basil, after which he stabs him dead. Dorian then blackmailed an old friend to dispose of the body. Now, the corruption of the picture is complete, by an act of murder.
Dorian, being motivated by a new love interest, does some soul-searching and alters his behavior. Through that relationship he wonders if his new-found goodness has reverted the corruption in the picture, but sees only an even uglier image of himself. He decides that only by a full confession will he be absolved of his sins. So Dorian decides to destroy the last remnant of his guilty conscience. In a rage, he plunges the knife, that he used to kill Basil, into the portrait. Upon entering the room, from which they heard screams, the servants find an unknown old man, stabbed in the heart, whose face and figure are withered and decrepit. The rings on the hands of the dead man are those belonging to Dorian, thereby identifying the body as his. Beside him is found the picture of Dorian Gray, reverted back in form as Basil had painted it; its original beauty.
Should we have such a picture of our souls, what might its likeness be? As unblemished as at our birth? Likely not. As each sound, image and action can be recorded or recounted by witness, so, too, does any indiscretion of thought, word and deed leave a lesion upon one’s soul. Although a child who steals a candy bar from a store, or a man who robs a bank, are different functions of thievery, is each not still a violation against a neighbor? Levels of culpability can be determined by motivation, yet culpability remains .
When at the moment of death if one is in a state of grace by having refrained from, or attained forgiveness for any mortal sins, there may still exist the stains from any failure to fulfill the two commands; to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves, which were left by Christ to those who would choose to follow Him. In the presence of God those seemingly negligible stains on our souls will be seen vividly, as would those imperfections on a portrait when examined in the natural light of day. It is not God’s perfection that bars us from entering heaven, but rather our imperfections in comparison that do so.
But, through God’s infinite mercy, for those acceptable souls that are yet not perfect, a period of purification is granted which removes the stains of impurity as dross is burned away leaving gold purified. Furthermore, through this Divine mercy, accelerated purification is made possible for these longing souls by loved ones still on their earthly journey, who sacrifice time in prayer and especially in offering up the sacrifice of the mass on their behave. Those souls, who have passed beyond death, can no longer of themselves gain forgiveness nor make amends for un-repented sins. Only when these hungry souls are worthy to be in the presence of perfect love can they become saints. And only those who are saintly shall inherit the joy of unending blissful life found in God’s divine truth and perfect love. Dorian denied himself any chance of purification and salvation. Instead of remorseful repentance and putting his trust in God’s mercy, he took his own life in a suicidal rage.
Thoughts become words, words become acts, acts determine character; a character that can be either built upon virtue or vice. As Basil created an image of Dorian’s beauty, Dorian betrayed that image by his imprudent actions. Only in the end when it was too late did he admit to his guilt. And even then his offer of repentance was a violent expression of vice, as he brutally stabbed the image of his own soul. For only though an act of love, not hate, can a soul be made new.
How directed then are our thoughts, words, and acts. Are they directed as Basil, toward the saintly, or as Dorian, toward the sinner. Prudence causes us to hesitate. A pause to reflect upon the potential repercussions of our acts. Let Dorian’s fate be a lesson. A lesson not needed to be learned by experience.
So then… let us, in every waking moment, prepare ourselves for the ultimate joy. That joy which is accessible by one who accepts God’s will as his own.
May our souls, in the end, be pictures of health.
What a powerful story to illustrate your point Alan. ❤
Thanks, Diana. The story does leave an impression.
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Indeed there are many lessons in this story and in your understanding of it’s wisdom. Thankyou Alan.
You’re welcome Karen. Thanks for weighing in.
Just purchased your book. Looking forward to reading it.
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Thankyou so much Alan, I really appreciate that. I would love your feedback when you are finished.
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