Category Archives: Cast of Characters

Family Ties

“He walked over to his bed and pulled his mother’s journal from under his pillow.  He had taken to sleeping with it there after Jagua Rigogo had suggested that it was the perfect way to contact her spirit in his dreams.  It hadn’t worked so far, but it had brought him comfort to have it within reach” (p. 46).

 

In this quote, Elvis is getting ready for work and grabbing books that he wishes to read on his travels.  The mention of his mother’s journal is a crucial one; through mentioning that he sleeps with the journal close to him, it shows that Elvis still relies on his mother to “bring him comfort” (p.46) even after her death.  The reason why Elvis relies on his mother’s journal is because he no longer has a parental figure that provides the love, care, and support that he needs in growing up.

Since his mother has passed away, Elvis’ father has become an alcoholic.  Elvis’ father “had always turned to alcohol when life became hard, [but] back in their hometown there had been some dignity to his drinking” (47).  Since the loss of Beatrice, Sunday’s drinking has gotten worse.  Sunday has been gone for long periods of time drinking, he has remained jobless, and he has not been the father or the role model that Elvis needs to become a man.  This has occurred because he is not over the death of his late wife.  As a result, the roles are reversed.  Elvis takes on the role of the provider of the house and Sunday takes on the role of the jobless child.

This connects to the mother’s journal because Elvis’ only positive family relationship was the relationship with his mother.  Comfort explains to Elvis that his father “…want to kill himself with drink” (51) to be with Beatrice in the afterlife.  Beatrice is the only thing that connects Elvis to his father and to his past.  In reading her journal, Elvis can feel like he is connected to his family once more.

David and his attempt at self-discovery

“Perhaps, as we say in America, I wanted to find myself. This is an interesting phrase, not current as far as I know in the language of any other people, which certainly does not mean what it says but betrays a nagging suspicion that something has been misplaced. I think now that if I had had any intimation that the self I was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which I had spent so much time in flight, I would have stayed at home. But, again, I think I knew, at the very bottom of my heart, exactly what I was doing when I took the boat for France” (p. 21).

Through going abroad, David attempts to find reconciliation in who he is; David hopes to determine his sexuality without the pressure of his family.   Hence, Baldwin chooses to write from a retrospective point of view to incorporate details that David—at the moment he chose to go to France—did not know. Through Baldwin writing in retrospect, David admits to “…think[ing] now that if [he] had had any intimation that the self [he] was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which [he] had spent so much time in flight, [he] would have stayed at home” (p. 21). This admittance is crucial to the plot of the novel, as David focuses upon his fateful night with Joey throughout the first twenty pages or so; this was the night that David discovers that he enjoys the company of men as much, if not more, than women. Thus, the narrator is inserting details that allude to David going to France to discover his sexuality in an environment with no outside influence.

David attempts to set off on a voyage of self-discovery when he begins to sense that his dad “… thought [him and David] were alike [and David] did not want to think so” (p. 17). David fears being confined to what his father is; he fears being compared to his father because he knows that he is nothing like him. David enjoyed his sexual encounter with Joey; his father enjoys the company of women. David utilizes alcohol to stifle the pain caused by his inability to be like his father; David wants to be straight and fears that he is gay. Therefore, when David goes to France, David and his father “… got on quite well, really, for the vision [he] gave [his] father of [his] life was exactly the vision in which [he himself] most desperately needed to believe” (p. 20). The vision being that David is straight. Thus, the retrospective narrator comments that “… [he] think[s] [he] knew, at the very bottom of [his] heart, exactly what [he] was doing when [he] took the boat for France” (p. 21) because David knew that he would need to escape the pressure of conformity to be happy; David knew that, if he were to discover his true self, he would need to be free from judgment.

Lord Henry’s Character and Oscar Wilde

 

“(…) beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid”(pg 2)

Oscar Wilde is one of the most important members of the aesthetic  literary movement. This is a movement that was created in response to the Victorian period. Aesthetes believed in the importance of beauty, art, individualism and self-expression. In the novel The Picture Of Dorian Gray the character that gives a voice to the aesthetic movement is, in fact Lord Henry. Authors who believed in this movement believed that art should not convey a moral message, it rather should  just be a mere pleasure to the “spectators”.

Lord Henry is the character that gives a voice to the movement, in more then one occasion he expresses opinions that are quite questionable. All that matters to him is the beauty of things, or the pleasure that one can receive from things. Henry’s character is interesting for mainly for two reasons. First of all, throughout the book it is never clear to the reader if Henry lives after the aesthetic values he so much professes. Almost all he says seems to be some kind of aphorism, short and (apparently) highly convincing, which takes me to the second reason why I consider Henry’s character so interesting. So as mentioned earlier it is never clear if Lord Henry conducts his life following the principles behind all of his aphorisms, but he does a marvelous job in influencing Dorian Gray. He becomes the person Dorian goes to for advice, Dorian ends up basing all his life choices on the aesthetic principles. So where Lord Henry is the voice of the aesthetic movement, Dorian Gray is the guinea pig who shows readers what happens when aesthetic principles are applied to life choices. Dorian’s life becomes a life dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure and beauty.

Oscar Wilde supposedly is one of the advocates of the aesthetic movement, but did he really believed that aesthetic principles where good principles to follow in order to have a happy life? It is a well known fact that the ending of the novel is a tragic ending. If Dorian Gray was supposed to be the incarnation of the aesthetics values, than why did the novel end in such a tragic way? I believe Oscar Wilde did not actually believe that basing your life exclusively on aesthetic values was a good way to conduct your life. By ending the novel the way he did, he was trying to send a moral message to the readers, and that’s another element in the novel that’s completely against the aesthetic principals. Lord Henry and Oscar Wilde both don’t mean what they say but say what they mean. They both prays aesthetic values, but do they really believe in them?  Maybe not.

 

The Immorality of Influence

“Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of some one else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one’s self.” (13)

In this passage, Henry Wotton’s philosophy begins to seduce Dorian Gray, part of Wotton’s ultimate quest to become indispensable to Gray, just as Gray is to Basil Hallward. Wotton eventually seizes Gray’s character and then projects his hedonistic ideals and criticisms of morals and duties onto him, which lead to Gray’s tragic downfall.

Henry Wotton often speaks so profoundly of Hedonism and moral views that his confidence both intimidates and amazes Dorian. It is ironic that Wotton, a man who preaches the immorality of influence and the importance of self-development, becomes the influence from which Gray’s sins are borrowed. But from their first meeting, Wotton saw Gray’s naiveté and sought to take advantage of it and dominate his self-development.

When Wotton and Gray first meet, Gray is praised for his shocking beauty and powerful presence. Hallward is so unwilling to share his muse with the rest of humanity, especially with Wotton, because he is afraid of corruption of his muse, which would result in a loss of inspiration for him. Hallward also criticizes Wotton for his dodgy and radical opinions that make it difficult to infer whether they are his genuine opinions. However, Gray is so enthralled by Wotton’s confidence that he becomes attached to him. But once Gray accepts Wotton’s influence, his sordid evolution begins.

As Wotton dictates an influence on Gray, Gray loses the power over his own thinking and decision-making, a theme also seen in Nora Helmer’s character in A Doll’s House. Both characters are governed by the morals of their caretakers and have their opinions shrouded by the rules their superiors have set forth. However, Gray is stuck in this power dynamic because Wotton attacks his youth, which is Gray’s most valuable quality. Gray is driven into Wotton’s ideals by his fear of not only losing his youth, but his lack of knowledge up to this point in his life. Wotton intimidates Gray so much that he entrusts his life in Wotton, which will eventually lead to his demise.

What is Art, Really?

“It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself. The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul.”  (Page 4)

In the beginning of the novel, the identity of Dorian Gray is explained by Basil, a character who is infatuated by Dorian. Basil speaks nothing but praise of this character and rambles on and on of how inspirational this man is.  At first, it would seem that Basil wanted to capture the beauty of Dorian Gray in the portrait he painted. After all, Dorian is the subject of the painting. This, however, is not the case. Instead of trying to portray Dorian’s winning personality in a painting, Basil puts his own “soul” into the painting. At first, Basil’s motive of the painting does not make any sense. Why would one draw their own personal feelings when it is not the subject of the painting? Dorian is not the embodiment of Basil’s feelings, so why draw him in the first place? This train of thought is expected when thinking of art rationally. Basil did not mean this in a literal sense. He meant that he was painting what he felt instead of what he saw. Dorian was simply inspiration physically as well as emotionally.

This concept of being able to put a “soul” in a painting is rather intriguing. One cannot see a soul. In fact, it is a bit odd that Basil will not show his picture of Dorian because he is worried others will see his soul in the painting. No one knows what a soul looks like. Even if Basil’s soul was in the painting, it is not something anyone could see. There may be, however, a different implication  Basil’s use of the word “soul”. As stated in the passage, he is afraid of people seeing the secret that is in his soul. This statement is rather vague and leaves the implication that Basil is more than intrigued by Dorian Gray’s personality and dashing good looks. It is possible that Basil is hiding a crush and is afraid it is shown in his painting.  Maybe that is what is meant by putting his soul into his work.

 

Greta’s Transformation

“‘ It must be gotten rid of’ cried the sister; ‘that is the only way, father. You must try to get rid of the idea that this is Gregor. The fact that we have believed so long, that is truly our real misfortune. But how can it be Gregor? If it were Gregor, he would have long ago realized that a communal life among human beings is not possible with such and animal and would have gone away voluntarily.’” (69)

By the end of Part III of the narrative we see that Gregor’s physical condition brings about numerous problems for his family. Since he is no longer working, it forces the rest of his family to work to make up for the loss of income. Gregor later drives away the lodgers and causes a lot of tension within the home. Also because Gregor cannot communicate with his family, due to his increasing inability to speak as time progresses, the family does not know his desires or what he is thinking.

It appears to the reader that although Gregor is still a member of the family, because he no longer can assist in the family’s financial situation, he was of no use to them. After overhearing his sister’s request Gregor feels unwanted and depressed, and dies the next morning. This is especially sad because not only was he stressed about his family’s financial burden when he was still a man, but also when he is an insect. He expresses that he planned on sending his sister to conservatory regardless “the great expense, which that must necessitate and which would be made up in other ways” (35).

I think that it is significant to recognize that it is Gregor’s sister, Grete who makes the suggestion to get rid of Gregor. Initially it was Grete who was taking care of Gregor and providing him with food. She even argues with her mother that altering Gregor’s room was the best option for him, as that would allow him to climb up the walls and across the ceiling. But as the story continues the one person in the family who appears to be the most compassionate towards Gregor, his sister Grete, becomes frustrated and loses hope that Gregor will return to the brother she once knew. Although Gregor’s transformation is the focus of the narrative, Grete’s transformation is also significant. In the beginning she is the only one there to assist Gregor, but at the end she gives up hope, and convinces her parents that they do not need him.

 

50 Follies of Gray

“’Can you remember any great error that you committed in your early days, Duchess?’ [Lord Henry] asked, looking at her across the table. 

‘A great many, I fear,’ she cried. 

‘Then commit them over and over again,’ he said, gravely. ‘To get back one’s youth, one has merely to repeat one’s follies.’ (Ch. 3 Pg. 37)”

 

            As the dinner guests gather round and listen to Lord Henry, he outlines a philosophy riddled with selfishness and hedonism. Henry’s claim is basically that the fountain of youth can be found in one’s own attitude toward their past actions. He believes that one should not look upon past errors with disdain. Furthermore, he suggests that they should repeat these “follies” in order to feel young again. Mistakes are not about regret and self-loathing. To Lord Henry, mistakes are what exemplify the beauty and happiness of youth. In addition, the consequences of one’s actions are irrelevant. Lord Henry’s selfish notions appall the guests, however, both they and Dorian are fascinated by his thoughts. They speak directly to Dorian’s desire to preserve his youth and happiness. Ironically, it is this same philosophy that turns Dorian from an optimistic young man into a colder and more cynical one.

This passage is important because it foreshadows the emotional train wreck that will become of Dorian. This is one of the first times in the story Lord Henry is able to sink his thoughts into Dorian. In this passage, Henry plants the seeds in Dorian’s mind for the self-indulgence that will eventually consume him. Dorian’s lack of regard for his actions and their consequences, namely when he calls things off with Sybil Vane and is not bothered by her suicide, can all be attributed to this exchange. At one point in time he was convinced he was in love with this woman. However, her death ceases to affect him because at that point remorse for him is obsolete. Thanks to Lord Henry, Dorian is convinced that remorse for his actions is to be avoided at all costs in order to maintain his precious youth.