Civilisation In The Picture Of Dorian Gray And Heart Of Darkness. Wilde And Conrad's View Of Man In Society.

2363 words - 9 pages

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 us'. These are the lines along which 'good society' supposedly functions and by which the reader, as well as Dorian himself, become disillusioned, so that, 'ugliness that had once been hateful to him because it made things real, became clear to him now for that very reason'. Our 'young Apollo' realises that the beauty he once idolised only disguises the truth--'ugliness was the one reality'.In Heart of Darkness, 'civilisation' is presented as a mask that conceals the reality of humanity. When Marlow, the morally discriminate though impressionable narrator, arrives in the Congo, he is struck by the 'savage' nature of the 'brutes', who 'howled, and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces'. However, he soon comes to see 'truth' in this 'wild and passionate uproar'; he admits to feeling a 'remote kinship' with the 'savages' and is struck by their 'terrible frankness'. Viewing the 'savages' as reality is an idea on which Conrad expands later in the book to explain the behaviour of Kurtz, the power hungry colonist who has looked within himself and 'gone mad'. Marlow recognises that the...

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