Throughout reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, I have been trying to figure out how the gaze functions. I am usually drawn to how men and women view each other, and seeing who becomes the object of someone else’s gaze. The relationship between Dorian and Sybil is a typical one. The male gains extreme pleasure in viewing a female body, especially knowing that he cannot be viewed in return. In Dorian, this pleasure manifests itself in his infatuated proposal of marriage to Sybil so that he will always be able to possess this amazing creature. And we see where this plan fails – Sybil reminds him that she is human, not just a character on a stage, when she is no longer able to act out the love of others because her feelings for Dorian are so strong. He immediately rejects her because she is no longer a perfectly pleasing object, and his spiral into debauchery begins.
That is a normal exemplification of the effects of the male gaze on a female subject-made-object. But I am having trouble understanding the implications of the picture of Dorian and the effects it has on him. The picture is an object from which others could originally gain great pleasure – it belies Basil’s obsession with the beautiful young man, and in the normal expression of the male gaze would then feminize Dorian. In that moment, Dorian demands that no one else is allowed to have the paining, no one else is allowed to feminize him in that way, and he choosing to follow Lord Henry’s advice of constantly seeking beauty.
But Dorian becomes obsessed with looking at this picture as it comes to reflect his soul rather than his beauty, which he gets to keep as long as he doesn’t destroy the painting. I am not sure how to obsession with self within the conversation about the gaze – a male is taking pleasure in seeing his own beauty as an object, and continues to gain a sort of sick pleasure in seeing how his soul is being destroyed through his sinful life. He is, in a way, feminizing himself, the action which when it came from Basil caused him to start down the path of an aesthetic. Is this constant viewing of his true self, and of the destruction on his own purity, the motivation behind Dorian’s scandalously sinful life?
It would seem odd in a book that is basically teeming with homoerotic connections between the male characters and Dorian, that Dorian would react so negatively to his constant self-feminization. He wants to always be with Lord Henry around, a man who explicitly wants to dominate Dorian in the way that Dorian dominated Basil, which puts Dorian in the stereotypically female submissive role. Dorian is seeking that kind of relationship from Lord Henry, but he seems to hate when he is put into that female position.
I’m still struggling with how to understand how the male gaze works on Dorian, and how self-gaze affects his actions, but I think that these different gazes are somehow connected to Dorian’s sexuality that he does not seem to be able to come to terms with.