According to the feminist literary theory “The Male Gaze”, literary texts have a tendency to portray the world and women from a masculine point of view. These texts present women in terms of stereotypes and as objects of male pleasure. This usually occurs through the way males in a novel describe, talk about, and view women. In “The Male Gaze,” there is often one character, usually male, who is more extreme in his male gaze attitudes towards women than the other characters in the novel. This character often has a notable presence around the other characters of the novel.
For the novel, A Picture of Dorian Gray, this influential character was undoubtedly Lord Henry Wotton. Throughout this novel, Lord Henry gave his opinion to anybody who would listen to him. He was portrayed as a man who had a lot of money and influence on the people around him. Recognizing his powerful influence, he often persuaded other characters to adopt these mentalities. One of the people he largely impacted was the title character Mr. Dorian Gray. In contrast to Lord Henry, Mr. Dorian Gray was characterized as being significantly less mature than Lord Henry.
As such, Dorian consistently turned to Lord Henry for advice about anything and verything, most notably about women. The relationship between Dorian and Lord Henry became like a mentor-student relationship, as Lord Henry taught Dorian “the ways of being a man”. It was this quasi mentor-student mentality that was the driving force for many of the key plotlines in A Picture of Dorian Gray. Through this quasi mentor-student relationship, there is a deadly shift in the male gaze of the main character Dorian Gray.
These notions directly affect Dorian’s romantic relationship with Sibyl and eventually lead to his demise. In the novel, Lord Henry seemed hyper-fixated on the physical features of women and as constantly commenting on the importance of their outward appearances. In his comments, there was a stark contrast between the ways he described male and female characters. Male characters were described as being godlike creatures in their appearance and as objects of admiration.
For example, when Dorian is getting his portrait painted, Lord Henry described Dorian as “… ertainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. All the candor of youth was there as well as all youth’s passionate purity” (Wilde 18). While Dorian was having his ortrait painted, the attractive assets of Dorian’s body were described in thorough detail, and his physical flaws were minimized or described as beauty. Lord Henry described women with brevity and portrayed them using demeaning words that expressed his views of women being less important than men in society.
In one part of the novel, Lord Henry was giving advice about Dorian’s relationship and his impending engagement to Sibyl. Referring to Sibyl, Lord Henry remarked: “Don’t run down dyed hair and painted faces. There is an extraordinary charm in them, sometimes” (Wilde 55). Compared to the description of Dorian, Lord Henry’s descriptions of Sibyl were very simplistic and almost degrading. Although make up and styling of hair are usually regarded as things that accentuate and enhance a woman’s beauty, Sibyl’s hair was plainly described and her makeup was viewed as merely a paint that was occasionally charming.
Rather than Lord Henry minimizing the physical flaws of Sibyl as he did for Dorian, Sibyl’s flaws seem to be the focus of his descriptions and attitudes toward her. These descriptions are not limited to physical characteristics, but cognitive characteristics as well. In multiple occasions throughout the novel, Lord Henry insinuated that men are intellectually superior to women. Referring to the Duchess of Monmouth, Lord Henry stated: “She is very clever, too clever for a woman. She lacks the indefinable charm of weakness” (Wilde 185). In other words, Lord Henry was inferring that it is unacceptable for women to appear more clever than men.
The language he used is evident that he suppresses women. For Lord Henry, part of being a woman meant that they had to be weak and helpless and always relying on the support from a man. Any woman who did not fit this mold was onsidered abnormal; however, unfortunately, except for the Duchess, the females in the novel perfectly fit this mold. At the beginning of the novel, Dorian was in love with Miss Sibyl Vane who was an actress that performed in the rundown theaters of London.
Sibyl affectionately referred to Dorian as “Prince Charming. With Dorian as the supposed “Prince Charming,” this would make Sibyl the princess, a literary figure that often conjures the idea of a woman who is helpless and needs a man to save her. Talking about Dorian, Sybil stated that: “Prince Charming rules life for us now… I shudder at the thought of eing free” meaning that once a woman is tied down to a man, the man becomes the decision maker and controls their relationship (Wilde 53). The idea of a male-dominated relationship was only reiterated when Lord Henry told Dorian: “I am afraid that women appreciate cruelty, downright cruelty.. They love being dominated” (Wilde 84).
When Dorian and Sibyl’s relationship started becoming more serious, Sibyl decided that it was impossible for her to continue her career as an actress because of her feelings for Dorian. Thorough out her acting career, she pretended she was in love, and now that she elt she was in “true love,” she could no longer pretend to be so. This is evident when she stated: “before I knew you [Dorian], acting was the one reality of my life. It was only in the theatre that I lived… You made me understand what love really is. My love! My love! Prince Charming… You are more to me than all art can ever be. ” (Wilde 73).
In other words, Sibyl was under the notion that prior to meeting Dorian she did not know what life truly was, and she found her life’s purpose through meeting Dorian. She subsequently quit her job as an actress to further pursue her relationship with Dorian. At the beginning of the novel, Dorian strongly desired to marry Sibyl because of his pure, innocent love that he had for her. Due to this, Dorian continued his conversations with with Lord Henry. Dorian said to Lord Henry: “I love Sibyl Vane. I want to place her on a pedestal of gold and to see the world worship the woman who is mine. What is marriage?
An irrevocable vow… that I want to take. Her trust makes me faithful, her belief makes me good. When I am with her, I regret all that you have taught me” (Wilde 65). In other words, marriage, for Dorian, was a step he was illing to take because he loved Sibyl; however, in response to Dorian, Lord Henry spoke words that directly impacted Dorian’s ultimate decision. Lord Henry convinced Dorian that he was to0 great of a man for Sibyl and why Sibyl was not somebody Dorian should consider marrying. This led to a heated conversation where Dorian said to Sibyl: “You have spoiled the romance of my life.
How little you can know of love, if you say it mars your art! Without your art, you are nothing. I would have made you famous, splendid, magnificent. The world would have worshipped you, and you would have borne my name. What are you now? A third-rate actress with a pretty face” (Wilde 74). Dorian’s words were in direct contrast to his never-ending accolades of Sibyl that he mentioned prior to his talk with Lord Henry. Rather than viewing Sibyl as a beautiful woman who should be placed on a pedestal, Dorian now backtracked and deemed Sibyl as someone of little or no value without her acting career.
After Dorian and Sibyl’s conversation, she was in a state of distress. Without Dorian in her life, she felt her life did not mean anything, and she did not know how to like her life now that Dorian was not in it. Sadly, as a consequence to their reakup, Sibyl committed suicide. In short, her decision was a sexist ideology where women decided that they cannot be happy without a man in their lives. This ideology insinuates that a woman has no purpose in her life after the male figure is no longer in the picture.
In essence, a woman cannot pick herself up and dust herself off; instead, she views herself as helpless because she cannot rely on a man anymore. Even though Dorian was Sibyl’s fiance, he did not immediately hear about the death of Sibyl, Dorian was informed of it by Lord Henry. Rather than providing pity or comfort, Lord Henry continued his sexist deology of women by romanticizing the idea that women kill themselves for a man: “Someone has killed herself for love of you. I wish that I had ever had such an experience.
It would have made me in love with love for the rest of my life. The people who that adore me. ave always insisted on living on.. ” (Wilde 87). Although he did not directly say it, Lord Henry’s statement implied that women’s lives were disposable, and he wished that the women in his life had killed themselves as well. This reinforced his idea that women, without men, are helpless. Following this, Lord Henry shifted gears and began reiterating he idea that women were a waste of time. He advised Dorian to “.. never marry at all… Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed” (Wilde 45) This is in direct juxtaposition to the idea that women are nothing without men.
In this case, Lord Henry believed that women were an unnecessary burden, and men should only marry when they have run out of things to do. For Lord Henry, marriage was a burden that only ends in a lot of disappointment In accordance to Lord Henry’s advice, Dorian never did marry. Following the death of Sibyl, Dorian became ore flippant about his relationships with women, and most of his relationships with girls were for sexual favors while Lord Henry continued in his dysfunctional marriage.
Lord Henry’s extreme male gaze and sexist ideologies poisoned the views of Mr. Dorian Gray. Dorian preferred to listen to the sexist ideology of Lord Henry rather than his own conscience. As a result, the woman in his life did not feel appreciate so she decided to face the situation by taking unnecessary, drastic measures. From that moment forward, Dorian continued a spiral downward until he eventually reached his demise at the end of the novel.