The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde offers a compelling take on the old moral that looks aren’t everything.
Dorian Gray starts out as a likable character who is somewhat naïve. He sits for an artist who paints a spectacular portrait of him that captures his youth, innocence, and overall chaste soul. During the process, he meets Lord Henry Wotton whose downright cynical view of society and the world in general taints young Gray’s optimistic perspective. So changed is he, Dorian Gray makes a silent plea that he could trade his soul in order to retain youth and beauty. As fate would have it, his plea is actually heard. So follows a life of despicable acts both great and small. While Dorian Gray remains youthful, charming, and beautiful throughout his life, his appearance is just the equivalent of shiny wrapping paper hiding a grotesque soul. He realizes this the moment his portrait begins to change. With each lie, act of selfishness, and unforgivable discretion, his face in the painting becomes ugly with hypocrisy, deceit, and hate.
Wilde takes great pains to stress that people are much too often caught up in the show that is life. Outward appearances, social status, material belongings, and reputation often steal attention that would be better spent on the soul. Wilde chooses to make this point not only through Dorian himself, but with an intricately crafted metaphor invovling the arts, (i.e. music, paintings, fiction etc.). The surface beauty of all these mediums is treasured and admired with great reverance. Through Lord Henry, Wilde contends this is a great fault of humanity. For we transfer this love of tangible beauty to humans and fail to see the real person.