Self-Gaze and Sexuality

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.

4 thoughts on “Self-Gaze and Sexuality”

  1. In Eve Sedgwick’s Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, she mentions the possible relationship between two men in Greek society: “the love relationship [between an older man and an adolescent], while temporarily oppressive to the object, had a strongly educational function…Along with its erotic component, then, this was a bond of mentorship” (4).

    Considering Dorian and Henry’s relationship in light of Sedgwick’s argument, Dorian wants to be around Lord Henry in order to be mentored by him – and allows himself to be objectified, feminized, in exchange. However, in Greek society, the younger man can grow out of his adolescence, while Dorian is trapped in his adolescent body, unable to become the mentor, forever the object of the male gaze rather than its subject.

  2. I’m wondering if Dorian’s obsession with looking at the painting to watch his soul deteriorate has something to do with the fact that as his soul deteriorates, his beauty in the painting also deteriorates. I think that he gets some satisfaction from knowing that the painting, and not his own face, will always bear the ill effects of his lifestyle of sin. For the majority of the novel, the painting bears the burden of his sin, and his is free to be young and beautiful and to pursue a life of pleasure. So, by observing the painting’s deterioration, Dorian is able to externalize his soul’s decline– at least until the end of the novel, when he becomes overwhelmed by his own conscience.

  3. The gaze is so weird in Dorian Gray. Perhaps there is something in self-feminization. Dorian reacts badly when he is placed in that role, but delights in putting himself in that same role. Dorian delights in gazing at himself but refuses to let anyone else gaze on him in that way. He is ultimately in control of who is gazing at his soul/painting and guards that right very carefully. I’m also curious how the reader fits into this system of sexuality. Are we meant to gaze upon Dorian? Or are we meant to find beauty elsewhere?

  4. I think Dorian’s obsession with his portrait and when it starts to show his flawed personality is what is most interesting here. Dorian loves his portrait regardless of the immoralities that begin to show, which could mean that he loves all the societally deeming “flawed” aspects of himself. Maybe rather than love the better choice could be he accepts his immoralities that is produced within the portrait. I think it really shows how in touch or possibly how in touch he wishes to be? With the various aspects of his soul and body, and his representation within the public compared, to what he sees within himself.

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