If Oscar Wilde were alive today to write his only novel in 2020 instead of in 1891, the story’s protagonist, Dorian, would be your quintessential social media influencer. On Instagram, he would be the picture of fabulousness: young, beautiful and leading an exciting life. But, like many a shooting internet star, nasty rumors would follow him wherever he went. Of course, they would be hard to believe – after all, could such a marvelous young man really be a fraud? Years older than he claims, engaged in criminal activities, drugs and even murder? As relevant today as it was when it was written, The Picture of Dorian Gray offers modern readers lessons on what counts in life.
What it’s about
Dorian Gray wishes to stay young and beautiful forever, while his portrait ages in his place. His wish comes true. At the urging of the narcissist Lord Henry, Dorian lives the depraved existence of an aesthete and hedonist – even murdering the kind-hearted artist Basil who gifted him the portrait in the first place. Yet his abandonment to the vices leaves traces only in the picture. Finally, Dorian tries to destroy the ill-fated painting, killing himself in the process.
Three life lessons
Youth may be exciting, but aging is a gift
The gorgeous Dorian abhors the idea of getting old, saggy and wrinkled. When his artist best friend gifts him an entrancing portrait, Dorian wishes he could stay young and beautiful while the picture grows old instead. Like magic, that is exactly what happens. It turns out, however, that youth and beauty are not all they seem to be. Dorian’s unfading vivaciousness may buy him leeway with people, but that means he never has to grow up, take responsibility for his actions or build caring relationships with others. In effect, the very virtues he wished to save rob him of some of the most valuable gifts that come with aging.
Be wary of the people who influence you
Lord Henry is someone who gets a thrill out exerting his power over other people. When he meets the young and impressionable Dorian, he decides to actively steer him down an unhealthy path. He does not care about Dorian’s well-being, or anyone else’s for that matter. In life, everyone meets their own Lord Henry eventually: a person who pushes you in poor directions for their own amusement. When someone gives you advice you find questionable, or that trusted friends find suspect, ask yourself if they really have your best interests at heart.
Society can be superficial, so hang on to true friends
Poor Basil. He was the only person who had Dorian’s best interests at heart and what did it earn him? A knife through his neck. Basil loved Dorian and, even when Dorian had shown him his darkest side, Basil still wanted to help him be good again. Friends you can trust with your worst fears and secrets are few and far between. Hold on to these relationships and see how special they are.
It can be difficult to watch the passage of time leave its track across your body. But next time you look in the mirror and notice a new wrinkle at the corner of your eye or silver hair gleaming in your crowning glory, remember that these changes are the trophies awarded for surviving. It may be tempting to channel all your energy into trying to preserve your youth but, in the end, what would it count for? After all, you can’t take it with you. Instead, lead a life that makes you proud, brings you joy and inspires others.
Lord Henry says: Party like it’s 1999.
Basil says: Be kind.