Irony in The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Joseph Heller writes, “He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt” (Heller 38). In The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, Dorian attempts to keep himself eternally youthful and beautiful, but he fails in the end. Even though many people believe that there is a price for immortality, the death of an immortal is not ironic. However, The Picture of Dorian Gray is ironic due to Dorian’s actions, as he tries to keep himself eternally youthful and, in the process, destroys himself. Irony is defined as “a difference between appearance and reality” (Farrell 1313). More specifically Wilde uses irony of situation which is when “an event occurs that violates the expectations of the characters, the reader, or the audience” (1313).

As the book begins, the reader finds that Dorian, treasures beauty more than anything. The quote, "Real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face" (Wilde 3). The irony in this concept is that it is the beginning of the destruction of Dorian’s beauty and soul. Basil is a painter and he paints a portrait of Dorian. Dorian refuses to show it because he thinks that it has “shown in it the secret of my [Dorian’s] own soul” (6). He unknowingly gives his soul to the portrait while he complains, saying:
[quote:61c91b9036]How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June. . . . If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that–for that–I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that![/quote:61c91b9036] (29)
Little does Dorian know that giving up his soul for beauty and youth will end up being his nemesis.

“Irony is created in the incongruity of such gorgeous details and such terrible actions” (Dianec). With the obsession of beauty comes the obsession of popularity. Dorian continues down this path and begins to sin. He looks at his painting and sees that it becomes ugly from age and sins. His obsession overwhelms him because he maintains his beauty but cannot comprehend why the portrait deteriorates. Since he gives his soul, Dorian give into sin for popularity and beauty, which, in turn, makes his painting ugly. When he tries to repent, the painting has a look of mockery because, now that Dorian’s soul is lost, he can no longer repent. In truth, he has no desire to repent. In the end, Dorian takes a knife to his self-portrait, which represents his soul. In doing so, he kills himself. When his servants find him, Dorian is as old as the portrait had become, while the portrait is as it was when Basil painted it – a young Dorian Gray.

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22” (Heller 55) wrote Heller. Although people think that it would be worth it to sacrifice their soul to live forever, in reality it is not. If a person is willing to sacrifice their soul then they will give into sin and loose themselves as shown in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Since irony is defined as “a difference between appearance and reality” (Farrell 1313), this points to the fact that if an immortal dies it is ironic.

Works Cited
Dianec, "Chapter 7." The Picture of Dorian Gray Paragraph 321 Dec 2008 18 Jan 2009 .
Farrell, Edmund. Literature and the Language Arts: The British Tradition. Second Edition. Saint Paul, MN: Paradigm Publishing, 2003.
Heller, Joseph. Catch 22. Reprint. USA: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 1996.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Modern Library, 1992.

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