Schrodinger’s Painting

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray comments on moral corruption through the abstract concepts of art. Dorian Gray acts as an innocent blank slate until Lord Henry fills his mind with misogynistic and unnecessarily cruel thoughts. But what if the true cause of Dorain’s corruption? Is Lord Henry fully responsible for influencing a young man into becoming serial killer? Was Dorian always a serial killer in waiting? Or perhaps the very vanity of art simply corrupted his soul.

Dorian adopts Lord Henry’s views without consideration. Specifically Lord Henry’s misogynistic views teach Dorian to be vain about his own beauty. Even though Sibyll is an actress, Lord Henry believes her actual acting performance will still be a “delightful experience” as long as if she is “lovely” and beautiful (Wilde 73). By claiming the key to maintaining youth, and therefore beauty, is to avoid “unbecoming emotions” (Wilde 73), he claims youth and beauty coincide. Additionally, emphasizing Sibyll’s beauty over her acting skills puts youth and beauty on a higher pedestal than skill, intellect, morals. Dorian, who wishes to stay young and beautiful, now believes he must be vain and proud, and not anything unbecoming, in order to keep his beauty. If Lord Henry claims Dorian’s “tragic” look was unbecoming (Wilde 73), then it’s not far of a stretch to say shame and guilt are also unbecoming. Dorian later commits murder and feels a warped sense of shame, lamenting how Basil dead body was like “a dreadful wax image” (Wilde 135), even though he merciless stabbed Basil himself several times. The portrait Basil painted of Dorian reflects his moral decline.

Yet Dorian keeps the portrait covered by a screen. It is only when he “drew the screen aside, and saw himself face to face” that he realized the portrait had in fact changed from a picture of innocence to Dorain with a sneer (Wilde 82). Upon seeing the portrait changed for the first time, Dorian hadn’t murdered Basil yet, but he had been cruel to Sibyll. Lord Henry had by then filled Dorian’s head with misogynistic views, but is he fully responsible for Dorian’s decline? Can a person really become a serial killer just by listening to a toxic jerk? Although the portrait changes in tandem with Dorian’s decline, Dorian doesn’t see the changes until he uncovers the portrait. In that way, the portrait acts as Schrodinger’s Cat, where the time it unchanged is unknown since it is only observed when the screen is removed. When did the portrait really change? Did it predict Dorina’s decline or simply illustrate it after the fact? If no one checked on the painting, would Dorian still corrupt, would the painting still show beauty instead of cruelty?

4 thoughts on “Schrodinger’s Painting”

  1. I love how you question the importance of temporality within Dorian Gray. It is such a conundrum – is Dorian corrupted when he views his corruption or when it happens. Considering that Wilde was also thinking a lot about the soul at this time, when was Dorian’s soul so called transferred to the portrait instead of his physical being, and was it when he began getting corrupted by Lord Henry? Your blog begs the fascinating question of who is responsible for Dorian’s corruption and how do we know – I think it changes with each perception.

  2. This is an interesting point that poses an interesting implication throughout the novel. If the painting starts out perfect and untainted by Dorian’s horrific acts, then does this imply that Dorian’s personality was as ‘beautiful’ as his looks? Was he such a good person beforehand that the painting was also good? I also like your question about whether the effects on the painting were reversible or not, whether if Dorian shaped up and stopped acting like a lunatic would his painting look better?

  3. I love the title of your blog post first and foremost. I think the thought piece that you bring up is something super interesting to consider. Something I thought was provoking was when Dorian tried to change the painting for better and it didn’t work. If you’ve ever watched The Good Place, when the characters try to gain points, they can’t because the incentive is to gain points, so their actions aren’t authentic. Just like with Dorian, his actions are not authentic to better himself, but rather to better the painting.

  4. Questioning the morality of Dorian and the visual effects on the painting are rooted within the novel. The questions you ask are very interesting to divulge in since the author is very ambiguous for many of the conundrums provided in the novel. If the supernatural approach is considered, then the painting should theoretically always be changing whether it is viewed or not. However, maybe it is only when Dorian views the painting that he is reflecting on his misdeeds, which in turn affect the painting. As to Dorian becoming a serial killer due to listening to Lord henry is in question, we can clearly see how the views have been passed down almost as how views are passed down by generations. Seeing Dorian be guide through his decisions as a child by Basil and Lord henry, the reader can see Dorian making his own choices based on the views passed on from those influential people in his life. The soul comes into question here more as you are in charge of your choices. While no one can make you do something, they can influence your views of the morality; necessity; and severity of the situation.

Comments are closed.