Boundaries of the Soul: Failure to Acknowledge the Separateness of Others as a Sign of Evil in Oscar Wilde's the Picture of Dorian Gray

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abstract

Before the 1983 publication of M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie, the diagnosis of evil had never entered the psychiatric lexicon. To allow for this designation within the medical sphere, Dr. Peck's case histories illustrate the salient characteristics of both individual and group evil. From these findings, the eight signs of an evil individual can be deduced. They are: victimization of body and/or spirit, failure to recognize the separateness of others, depersonalization of others, unmitigated narcissism, the unsubordinated use of power, scapegoating, lying, and the total inability to tolerate legitimate criticism. The creation of victims constitutes the first and most blatant characteristic; the second and third signs follow logically from the first: failure to recognize the separateness of and subsequent depersonalization of others. This essay focuses exclusively on these latter two behavioral consequences while examining some of Dorian Gray's major decisions from Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891).

Prior to the 1983 publication of M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil,[1] the diagnosis of evil had never entered the psychiatric lexicon. To allow for this designation within the medical sphere, Dr. Peck's case histories illustrate the salient characteristics of both individual and group evil. From his clinical findings, I extrapolated the signs identifying an evil individual as well as an evil group and subsequently enumerated them. For the purposes of this essay only the eight signs of an evil individual require referencing. They are: victimization of body and/or spirit, failure to recognize the separateness of others, depersonalization of others, unmitigated narcissism, the unsubordinated use of power, scapegoating, lying, and the total inability to tolerate legitimate criticism.

The creation of victims constitutes the first and most blatant characteristic. The second and third signs follow logically: failure to respect the autonomy of others and its frequent result, their depersonalization. This inquiry focuses exclusively on these latter two behavioral consequences, while examining Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891).[2] (At the risk of trying the patience of those only too familiar with the narrative, suffice it so say that Wilde tells the story of a nobleman accorded the tandem privileges of wealth and good looks. Upon first seeing his resplendent full-length portrait, Dorian utters a fateful wish. It is granted. Consequently, while the image on the canvas records not only the ravages of time, but also those of his increasingly serious transgressions, he continues to appear young as well as unsullied.) Though Dorian Gray victimized four major figures in addition to himself, these remarks concern only the denigration of Sibyl Vane, Basil Hallward and Alan Campbell.

Sibyl Vane. Whether speaking of the fledging actress before or after her final and disastrous performance, Dorian only focuses on the roles she plays on stage or in his life and never on her essential self. For instance, when Lord Henry invites Dorian to join him for dinner, he refuses his offer by reminding Henry that this evening Sibyl will be assuming the role of Imogen and tomorrow that of Juliet. Henry quickly asks: "'When is she Sibyl Vane?'" And Dorian replies: "'Never.'" (47) The next evening, while conversing with both his friends, Basil Hallward and Lord Henry, he continues in the same vein: "'Lips that Shakespeare taught to speak have whispered their secret in my ear. I have had the arms of Rosalind around me, and kissed Juliet on the mouth.'" (62)

Once Sibyl performs poorly, he frames his disappointment by enumerating all that she had done for him, but in his eyes does no longer. Furthermore, he places the entire blame for the relationship's failure on her and begins virtually every sentence with "you." "'You used to stir my imagination. Now you don't even stir my curiosity. …