Civilisation in The Picture of Dorian Gray and Heart of Darkness. Wilde and Conrad's view of man in society.

Essay by selahCollege, UndergraduateA+, November 2003

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The depictions of Dorian, the 'young Adonis' in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and of Kurtz, the 'universal genius' in Heart of Darkness leads one to question the effects of society on man: does civilisation help or hinder morality? Although many critics have argued the former, there is much evidence which shows that elements within society have detrimental effects on the two protagonists. I believe that the deterioration the men experience is a result of characteristics that develop in society, namely greed and vanity. Both novels present society as a conglomeration of self-righteous and immoral people, who despite pretences of philanthropy idolise corruption and mystery. Encouraged by the influences surrounding them, the two men revel in sin, eventually corrupting themselves and, in many cases, their companions.

The superficiality of society is an idea explored in both novels and is a concept that is helpful in analysing its effects on humanity.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde gives us a clear illustration of so-called 'civilised' society. Its shallow nature is exemplified in people's judgement of Dorian, for whom 'whispered scandals only increased...his strange and dangerous charm'. For them, his 'great wealth was a certain element of security' as they are 'never ready to believe anything to the detriment of those who are both rich and fascinating'. As Lord Henry Wotton, the immoral 'Prince Paradox' who plays a key role in corrupting Dorian, articulates, 'they are more cunning than practical. When they make up their ledger, they balance stupidity by wealth, and vice by hypocrisy'. Initially, Dorian, like his contemporaries, attributes great importance to appearance: 'It should have the dignity of a ceremony, as well as its unreality, and should combine the insincere character of a romantic play with the wit and beauty that make such plays delightful to...