Is it worth maintaining an ornately aesthetic life? Is it better to seek a moral lifestyle following society’s moral standards? With ideal appearances and superficial beauty, a decorated life can seem easier and more luxurious than a moral life. Leading a moral life is not as appealing to most people; and is filled with hardships and trouble over “doing the right thing”. One quality cannot be held without losing the other, due to their conflicting natures. While the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray brings out the central question “Is it better to pursue Aesthetics or Morality?” it describes the life of Dorian Gray, who constantly sought to maintain his appearance at the cost of his morals, and answers the question by revealing the consequences of living Mr. Gray’s “beautiful” lifestyle.In the novel, Oscar Wilde illustrates the explosion of aesthetic philosophy in higher English society at the time and showed that the ideas were not confined to merely art and artists, but also extended to life itself. Aestheticism advocates whatever was likely to create more happiness, beauty, and luxury in the individual’s life, normally though the tradition of hedonism, or pleasure-seeking self-indulgence. To the aesthetic English citizen, the ideal life is selfish, beautiful, and is only concerned with the individual living it. Lord Henry Wotton, a principal character in the novel, is a man with “wrong, fascinating, poisonous, delightful theories” (Wilde 87). Although Lord Henry is a self-proclaimed hedonist, he lives a rather dull life in the novel. He participates in civil English society and attends parties and the theater/opera, but he does not indulge in any low or distasteful behavior, contrary to Dorian Gray in his wild pursuit of youth…
… however, Wilde’s novel is not as embracing of aestheticism as these examples imply. Wilde illustrated a need for a controlled approach to aestheticism, without which would lead to a severe loss of morality. The concept of unrestrained aestheticism, as displayed by Dorian, results in egotism, a lack of guilt, and decay of the logical mind. As the novel asks, “Is it better to pursue Aesthetics or Morality?” it depicts an uncontrollably aesthetic lifestyle, the life of Dorian Gray, and answers the question by revealing the slow decay and eventual demise of Mr. Gray’s life. It is better to maintain a moral life with a conscience filled with guilt than to have a life of beauty and self-indulgence, filled with nothing but the temporary “pleasures” of the world around us.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New Jersey: Everbind Books,1890. Print.