According to the nurture theory of the evolution of human behavior, when a child is first brought into the world it has no basis or idea of how to perceive things. The child is pure and innocent. It is naive to its surroundings, depending on the guidance of those around it to show it the way. When a child is born, most are accompanied by loving nurses, doctors, and parents. The moment this child encounters these other beings, the influences upon the individual begins. Their parents and peers influence their personas and ultimately who they become. They instill in them the values and morals necessary to survive in society. They teach them self-control, cleanliness, repression of anger and respect for elders and property. It is these morals and values which society has come to accept as standards. However, if a person is taught morals and values that stray from these standards they are considered to be corrupt. Society has developed methods of alleviating this unwanted behavior. In the tamest cases, people are ostracized and shun in society due to their lack of conformity to societies principles. Others endure strict penalties such as paying fines or jail time. But in extreme cases the penalty is death. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde uses the influence of Lord Henry Wotton as well as the portrait of Dorian Gray to represent this corruption and its consequences.
Wilde emphasizes Dorian’s beauty and youth in order to signify his innocent nature. Dorian is described as handsome, good looking, and beautiful throughout the novel. Lord Henry even calls Dorian an Adonis (in Greek mythology a youth who fell in love with his own image reflected in water), when he first views his portrait. Along with these youthful good looks comes the assumption that he is incapable of wronging others, also known as the halo-effect. This is revealed by Wilde, who sates that Dorian possesses “something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candor of youth was there, as well as youth’s passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted form the world.”(11-12; ch. 2).
This purity and innocence allows the audience to perceive Dorian as a “blank slate” or a “human canvas”. Although he is in fact in his late twenties, he is still portrayed as naive and innocent. He is said to have a “simple and beautiful nature”(10; ch. 1), a comment t…
…hat causes Dorian to be heartless to his actions toward others, which in essence starts his downward spiral into a life of corruption. The portrait further signifies the deterioration and corruption of an innocent, moral human being. Each time Dorian commits an act that is deemed immoral by society; the image of him in the portrait begins growing older and uglier showing the scars of his evil doing. The portrait acts as not only as a mirror of Dorian’s soul, but as a societal ideal. It represents what society perceives as moral and ethical behavior, therefore giving substance and value to the heinous crimes that Dorian has committed. When Dorian’s actions stray or contrast to what is deemed acceptable in society the portrait punishes Dorian by taking away the two qualities which Dorian holds dearest to him, youth and beauty, thus making him aware of his unscrupulous actions and in the end condemning him to death. Society holds within itself morals and values that must be adhered to. It is these guidelines that attempt to keep our surroundings in safe and prosperous conditions. Not conforming to these principles has strict repercussions, in some cases, such as Dorian Grays, death.