Theoretically Informed Intertextual Analysis
There are numerous similarities existent between Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and William Wordsworth's "Resolution and Independence" Despite the fact that the former is a novel and the latter a poem, both were composed by English authors in the 19th century and were preoccupied with the singular theme of youth. This theme becomes even more magnified and lucid when these pieces of literature are examined within the psychoanalytic lens of literary criticism -- in which one largely identifies psychoanalytic concepts associated with the characters or authors of works of literature (Brooks 334). Adopting this stance for these two opuses, however, reveals that the protagonist in each manifests the Ideal-I noted in Lacan's mirror stage theory. A comparative analysis of these pieces of literature reveals that each respective protagonist attempts to stave off the process of aging by clinging to his youth.
The central conflict in each work revolves about an adopted version of Lacan's mirror stage theory and the Ideal-I, which was substantiated in part on the works of Kohler (Billig 1). According to Lacan, this stage occurs when an individual is less than two years old (and typically older than six months) and comes to first see himself or herself in a mirror. Such a sight is viewed by the individual as the ideal image of that person, which leaves a great deal of room for incongruence and even conflict when there is variation between that idealized image and the actual one that the individual comes to adopt. Although neither character in Wordsworth's or Wilde's works are depicted from such an early age, there is a definite identification with an idealized version of the youth of each of these characters evinced early on in these pieces. Moreover, there is a vast amount of discord and drama that occurs since neither character can live up to such an idealized image. In Gray's case, he comes to commit a gruesome murder and cover-up and, empowered by his success, leads a life of profligacy that morally pains him. In the case of the unnamed narrator in Wordsworth's poem, the vicissitudes inherent in adulthood -- stress, worry, impending demise -- present the narrator with conflict. Such anxiety and cognitive processes are ripe for psychoanalytic criticism (Delahoyde). The source of those conflicts, however, are the difficulty the characters have rectifying their Ideal I of Lacan's mirror stage theory and their true selves, which causes them to cling to their youth.
It is quite obvious that Gray manifests the Ideal-I in Wilde's novel by attempting to embrace his youth and deny impending adulthood. Wilde bestows upon the young man a youthful disposition and uncanny beauty that typifies the cusp of manhood which he is tottering tediously on at the outset of the work. However, Gray eventually becomes convinced that his beauty and youthful nature will fade with aging due to the machinations of Lord Henry. As such, Gray becomes obsessed with holding onto his youth, which is typified in a portrait he had taken in which his youthful beauty was in full bloom. In a fit of passion, the young man cries, "I shall grow old and horrible and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young…If only it were the other way! If it was I to be always young, and the picture to grow old!" (Wilde 28). This quotation reveals Gray's pathology about his looks and his very outlook on life. He equates aging with intense negativity, and none of the characteristics of grace, poise, experience, and other attributes that are viewed positively. Moreover, this passage reveals that his Ideal-I did not take place when he was an infant, but when he sat for this particular portrait. He views it as an idealization that nature and aging will inevitably...
Faced with such a view of himself and of growing older, he makes it quite clear that he would rather remain young and as effervescent as he is in the picture. This desire to remain forever young is his manifestation of the Ideal-I in Lacan's mirror stage theory.
The protagonist in Wordsworth's poem exhibits a similar commitment to youth as a means of avoiding some of the harsher realities of aging. His doing so is a way of demonstrating the Ideal-I that Lacan discusses in his mirror stage theory. There is a definite contrast in this poem between adulthood and youth; the latter is idealized while the former frequently is associated with negative connotations. The narrator's perceptions of the subject certainly mirror those of Gray's. In fact, an examination of several key passages in this work indicates that the narrator dreads aging nearly as much as Wilde's protagonist does. Additionally, Wordsworth's narrator attempts to reject aging in much the same way that Gray does. The setting is an idyllic walk in the summertime through a beautiful woods, in which the narrator feels, "as happy as a boy: / The pleasant season did my heart employ: / My old remembrances went from me wholly; / And all the ways of men, so vain and melancholy" (Wordsworth). The reader can infer that the narrator is actually manifesting the Ideal-I in the mirror stage theory not simply because he is as elated as a youngster is in such a congenial environment. Rather, it is because he rejects virtually all aspects of adulthood and the aging process while doing so. When Wordsworth denotes that the narrator's "old remembrances" dissipated in this environment, it means that the narrator has rendered himself bereft from adult cares. Significantly, such cares are described in negative terms invoking sadness and vanity. Thus, it is apparent that Wordsworth is not simply describing an individual who is reliving a pleasant childhood moment, he is describing someone who is doing so as he completely abandons adult concerns. Such abandonment underscores a commitment to youth and a repudiation of aging and adulthood.
Still, the crux of both of these pieces of literature is that aging is irrevocable. No matter how much one attempts to stave its inexorable advancement, it still occurs at some point. Thus, the efforts that each of the main characters summon in these works of Wilde and Wordsworth only result in further unhappiness -- which is a testament to the fact that their efforts are faulty manifestations of the Ideal-I of the mirror stage theory propagated by Lacan. Grey unabashedly believes in the idealized version of the beauty of his youthful self. It was so important to him that he would have given up "everything," including his "soul" (Wilde 28) to maintain it. However, despite the fact that through some inexplicable imprecation he is unable to age and therefore retains the physical manifestation of his idealized self, inside he has become debauched and perverse. He is subject to intense feelings of negativity and succumbs to them murders the creator of the painting that enables his physical body to remain perfect. During this murderous spree, "The mad passions of a hunted animal stirred within him, and he loathed the man who was seated at the table, more than in his whole life he had ever loathed anything" (Wilde 166). Feelings of madness and odiousness are not becoming, and are proof that because of an unhealthy preoccupation with an idealized image of himself, Gray is actually tormented by his decision to cling to his youth. Furthermore, this aspect of torment and of failing to succeed in maintaining one's ideal self, is a vital component of the Ideal-I in the mirror stage theory and is simply additional proof that this concept is what caused Gray to attempt to remain forever young.
The degree of unhappiness suffered by the narrator in Wordsworth poem may illustrate itself less dramatically, yet not less painfully. The idealized self that the protagonist clings to and identifies with is almost intrinsically wrapped up in the adult responsibilities he incurs -- despite his best efforts to the contrary. This dichotomy is evinced in the subsequent quotation in which the realities of adulthood pierce the narrator's blissful childlike moments. "Even such a happy Child of earth am I; / Even as these blissful creatures do I fare; / Far from the world I walk, and from all care; / but there may come another day to me-- / Solitude, pain of heart, distress and poverty" (Wordsworth). It is difficult to not read this passage and apply the concepts that the narrator discusses to Dorian Gray. Gray's preoccupation with his youthful beauty and the depravity it wrought him was certain an attempt remove himself from "all care." Furthermore, the characterization of both Wordsworth's narrator and Gray as a "Child" is adequate. Yet the importance of this passage is the reality that despite such a commitment to attempt to remain puerile and childlike, unpleasant factors that are actualized in adulthood ("distress" etc.) rear themselves and are all the more reason for the narrator to manifest his Ideal-I by attempting to cling to his youth.
If either Gray or the Wordsworth…
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