The lesson in The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is a timeless message that is seen in many children’s stories, such as the classic fairy tales. It is a message of “Beauty is Only Skin Deep.” Notice how the apparently beautiful Queen from Snow White is really a ragged old witch, which is shown by her reflection (her inner picture as it were), but the hideous Beast from Beauty and the Beast is smiling in adoration at the woman he loves when he is supposedly not capable of loving someone other than himself. Wilde’s Dorian Gray begins as a handsome man, as many villains do, but his image is transformed by his inner wickedness. His obsession with beauty leads to his loss of it.
Is this message about beauty and appearance really about vanity? Much like how Dorian indirectly destroys his image through his evil deeds, the Beast rips through the canvas of a painting depicting his once handsome face. He does this possibly in response to his hopelessness that “[no one] could learn to love a beast.” Subsequently, the idea that inner beauty is what counts can be a message of hope and, alternately, that of a warning…Worthy people will accept you for your inner beauty (so don’t be afraid), and that inner beauty will always reflect your true self (so be cautious). This concept of who is able to see, not your image, but your real identity and value, is central to the plot of Wilde’s book.
The Victorian period is grounded in the concept of purity and morality. Ironically enough, Oscar Wilde was not included among the ranks of the moral. Like Dorian Gray’s picture reflects his true inner demons, is this book Wilde’s way of expressing his own malcontent with his reputation? This cautionary fairy tale is one that has been taught to children and adults throughout many decades, if not centuries. Clearly, the idea that you will always see yourself as you truly are at some point in your life was and still is a troubling thought.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Charlottesville, Va.: U of Virginia Library, 1993. Print.