The Pictures of Dorian Grey is a literary work that typically induces strong emotions from the reader. They either love it or hate it. For one thing Oscar Wilde depicted the world as he saw it; harsh, shallow and terminal. Brutal honestly is often not accepted en masse and some readers expect a feel good story as entertainment. Critics say that the novel is homoerotic and vulgar. It is important to know that Socratic love has been around for a long time and it was considered quite natural by the Greeks whom we consider the founders of our western civilization. The young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward, who is greatly impressed by Dorian's physical beauty and becomes strongly infatuated with him, believing that his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. The fact that Basil Hallward is a bachelor hints that he is not interested in the opposite sex. Meeting in Basil's garden, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil's, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry's world view. The novel has strong Faustian theme whereby Lord Henry Wotton can be construed as the tempter and the dark side .
A lush, cautionary tale of a life of vileness and deception or a loving portrait of the aesthetic impulse run rampant? Why not both? After Basil Hallward paints a beautiful, young man's portrait, his subject's frivolous wish that the picture change and he remain the same comes true. Dorian Gray's picture grows aged and corrupt while he continues to appear fresh and innocent. After he kills a young woman, "as surely as if I had cut her little throat with a knife," Dorian Gray is surprised to find no difference in his vision or surroundings. "The roses are not less lovely for all that. The birds sing just as happily in my garden."
As Hallward tries to make sense of his creation, his epigram-happy friend Lord Henry Wotton encourages Dorian in his sensual quest with any number of Wildean paradoxes, including the delightful "When we are happy we are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy." But despite its many languorous pleasures, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an imperfect work. Compared to the two (voyeuristic) older men, Dorian is a bore, and his search for ever new sensations far less fun than the novel's drawing-room discussions. Even more oddly, the moral message of the novel contradicts many of Wilde's supposed aims, not least "no artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style." Nonetheless, the glamour boy gets his just deserts. And Wilde, defending Dorian Gray, had it both ways: "All excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment."