Advances in Literary Study
2013. Vol.1, No.2, 5-9
Published Online April 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 5
Dorian Gray’s Spiritual Ecological Crisis and the Inspiration to
Modern People
Junhong Tang1, Wei Zhang2
1Foreign Language Department, Baoding University, Baoding, China
2Educational Administration, Jibei Baoding Electric Power Vocational and Technology College, Baoding, China
Email: jessy090 12 00 3
Received February 8th, 2013; revised Marc h 11 th, 2013; a c ce p t ed A pr i l 3rd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Junhong Tang, Wei Zhang. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original wo rk is properly cited.
As an individual of spiritual existence, Dorian Gray, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, lacked the ability to
love his lovers and friends, lost the normal aesthetic ability, failed to control his gradually increasing evil
desires, so his body and soul began to go far away step by step. The imbalance and instability of his spiri-
tual factors like love ethic, moral ethic, aesthetic ethic and life ethic led to the completely collapse of
Dorian’s spiritual ecological system, even to his suicide. Dorian’s spiritual ecological crisis inspires the
modern people a lot. It provides people with a full view of their own life style, stimulates people to pay
more attention to their own spiritual ecological system, and spurs modern people on to adjust their spiri-
tual factors in the right orbit of balance and stability. The government and the public media are supposed
to play their part in keeping citizens well-informed of the potential benefit of the normal spiritual eco-
logical system. Only does a person’s spiritual ecological system runs in order, he can live normally and
make contributions to others, to the society.
Keywords: Love; Desire; Aesthetic Ability; Dorian Gray; Spiritual Ecological Crisis; Modern People
In The Space for Eco-criticism, professor Lu Shuyuan men-
tions that except for social and natural ecology a person is also
a kind of spiritual ecology in terms of the living conditions of
human beings (Lu, 2006). The spiritual ecology refers to the
balance and stability of the spiritual ecological factors such as
love ethic, moral ethic, aesthetic ethic, life ethic, etc. Moreover,
the spiritual ecological system is the necessary premise and
basis of the natural ecological and the social ecological system.
Once the balance and the stability of the spiritual factors are
disturbed, the spiritual ecological system of a person will be
thrown into disorder. Then the spiritual ecological crisis will
come into being and the crisis will lead the person to be im-
moral, abnormal and far away from the right orbit of life. The
spiritual ecological crisis of Dorian Gray, the protagonist in The
Picture of Dorian Gray, wa s demonstrated clearly and in detai l.
Taking drugs, enjoying excessively, committing suicide are the
obvious and important signals of Dorian’s spiritual ecological
crisis. In British literature, the comments on Oscar Wilde, the
author of The Picture of Dorian Gray, vary from one person to
another. People who like and admire Oscar think he is a tal-
ented genius, while people who dislike and disgust him con-
sider him as a joke and an abnormal person. To some extent,
the life style of Dorian Gray in The Picture of Doria n Gray was
a mirror of Oscar Wilde’s own life.
In spiritual ecological system, love is as important as the
sunshine and air in the natural ecological system. Only is there
love, the spiritual ecological system can develop healthily. Aes-
thetic ability is like the mountains and rivers in the spiritual
ecological system, so each person is supposed to reclaim, to use
and to preserve it reasonably and properly. Desire is the food
and water of the spiritual ecological system, and suitable supply
can maintain the system runs in order, otherwise it will collapse.
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, the spiritual ecologic al crisis of
Dorian Gray, as the spiritual existence, is demonstrated in the
lack of s love ability, the lost of aesthetic ability and the dis-
ability of controlling his evil desires. So Dorian Gray’s spiritual
ecological system is doomed to collapse.
Lack of the Ability of Love
Each person is expected to learn and master many abilities in
the daily life, of which love ability is the most important while
the most difficult to possess. In The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm
states that only does a person have the ability to love, then he is
able to love others (Fromm, 1987). Unfortunately, Dorian Gray,
in The Picture of Dorian Gray, failed to have the ability to love,
so he not only showed indifference and hard-heart in response
to his lover’s affectionate love, but also disliked even murdered
his only real friend Basil Hallward. In spiritual ecological sys-
tem, love is as indispensable as the sunshine and the air. Any
system which lacks sunshine and air is doomed to collapse step
by step. It was very difficult for us to find love in Dorian
Gray’s spiritual ecological system, so his spiritual ecological
system was certain to fall down.
Lack of Love Ability in Making Lovers
Dorian Gray found 17-year-old Sibyl Vane by chance in a
small and poor theater. Dorian was so deeply attracted by the
actress’ beautiful appearance and her excellent performance on
the stage that he fell in love wither her and proposed to her very
soon. Sibyl Vane also thought she had found the real lover in
her life and she considered it would be profanation for her to
play at being in love. So she decide d to go away from the stage
and enjoy the true love fully and deeply. However, Dorian Gray,
whose spiritual ecological system failed to possess the love
ability, was not able to appreciate Sibyl’s true love for him. “He
flung himself down on the sofa and turned away his face. ‘You
have killed my love,’ he muttered.” (Wilde, 2007) A last
Dorian said to Sibyl Vane in his calm clear voice. “I don’t wish
to be unkind, but I can’t see you again. You have disappointed
me.” (Wilde, 2007) Sibyl Vane was hurt so deeply that she
committed suicide on the right night that Dorian Gary broke up
with her. On hearing the death of his lover, Sibyl Vane, Dorian
did not blamed himself, did not felt regretful, but did think
Sibyl’s was another beauty. “There is something of the martyr
about her. Her death has all the pathetic uselessness of martyr-
dom, all its wasted beauty.” (Wilde, 2007) It is easy for us to
make a conclusion that Dorian Gray did not take love seriously,
did not cherish his lover carefully and did not know what is true
love and true love was far away from him.
Later, Dorian met the countryside girl, Hetty Merton. But
Dorian hurriedly said goodbye to Hetty because of his so-called
reason that he did not want to hurt her. However, the real rea-
son was absolutely not what he claimed to be but for his own
vanity. Dorian wanted his portrait to appear the same as before.
“As he thought of Hetty Merton, he began to wonder if the
portrait in the locked room had changed… Perhaps if his life
became pure, he would be able to expel every sign of evil pas-
sion from the face. Perhaps the signs of evil had already gone
away. He would go and look.” (Wilde, 2007) In order to satisfy
his personal purpose, Dorian hurt another girl once again.
Dorian’s indifference and selfishness caused him not to know
how to deal with his love and how to cherish his lovers, so he
did not get married even in his 40s. Ridiculously, his life was
full of flirtation and love affairs. It proved that true love was
absent in Dorian Gray’s life and Dorian Gray did not possess
the ability to love his lovers at all.
Lack of Love Ability in Making Friends
The more the friends, the more the happiness and warmness
are right to a normal person whose spiritual ecological system
contains the spiritual factor of love. While this idea is not true
to Dorian Gray, because his spiritual factor of love was com-
pletely distorted in his spiritual ecological system and his spiri-
tual ecological system had run disorderly. Reading the novel,
we could see Basil was the only true friend of Dorian. Basil
was concerned about Dorian’s life and was also worried about
Dorian would be affected by Henry’s immoral life ethics. Do-
rian himself also acknowledged that Basil always made some
advice on him. “I don’t want to see him alone. He says things
that annoy me. He gives me good advice.” (Wilde, 2007)
Basil’s good advice on Dorian became a kind of invisible mo-
nitor and control. Just as bitter medicine cures sickness, so un-
palatable advice benefits conduct. But Dorian did not realize it,
he did not like Basil’s advice on him and he decided to go out
of Basil’s monitor and control. When Basil prayed for him after
Basil saw his ugly soul, Dorian killed Basil. “He rushed at him
and dug the knife into the great vein that is behind the ear,
crushing the man’s head down on the table and stabbing again
and again.” (Wilde, 2007) A friend in need is a friend indeed.
Basil tried his best to help Dorian Gray, but Dorian could not
appreciate what Basil had done for him and killed Basil under
the drive of evil desire of running out of Basil’s monitor and
Dorian slept soundly on the right night on which he killed his
only true friend, Basil. Dorian had become so abnormal that he
did not know what love is, what friendship is and even what a
human being is. He failed to love his lovers, his friends and the
people around him. The lack of spiritual factor of love pre-
dicted that Dorian’s spiritual ecological system could not de-
velop in the right way, because love in the spiritual ecological
system is like the sunshine and air in the natural ecological sys-
tem. Any natural ecological system which lacks sunshine and
air will collapse in the dark and any spiritual ecological system
which excludes love will die in the numb.
Lost of the Aesthetic Ability
The forms of goodness are various. Goodness not only refers
to good looks, beautiful postures and expensive clothes (Li,
2011). The more important things for goodness are noble souls,
polite behaviors and excellent character. The person who only
pays much attention to the external goodness like good looks,
beautiful postures and expensive clothes generally tends to fall
into the pursuit of luxurious enjoyment, completely regardless
of his contribution and repayment to the society. Dorian Gray,
in The Picture of Dorian Gray, was so infatuated with good
looks, beautiful posture and the expensive clothes all the time
while noble soul, polite behavior and excellent character seemed
to have nothing to do with him.
“I know, now, that when one loses one’s good looks, what-
ever they may be, one loses everything… Youth is the only
thing worth having. When I find that I am growing old, I shall
kill myself.” (Wilde, 2007) In Dorian’s opinion, good looks
was the most important thing in his life. Without the external
goodness, he could not live any longer. So, it is difficult for us
to see any trait of the internal goodness in him. Just because of
Dorian’s this kind of life ethic, he spent so much time on the
place he live, the goods he used and the clothes he wore. Even
on the next morning on which he killed Basil the day before,
Dorian pay more attention to the clothes what he was going to
wear. “Dressed himself with even more than his usual care,
giving a good deal of attention to the choice of his necktie and
scarf-pin and changing hi s rings more than once.” (Wilde, 20 07)
The decorations of his living place were also very luxurious.
“In the huge gilt Venetian lantern, spoil of some Doge’s barge
that hung from the ceiling of the great, oak-paneled hall of en-
trance, lights were still burning from three flickering jets: thin
blue petals of flame they seemed, rimmed with white fire.”
(Wilde, 2007) Dorian’s little dinners were also well known
because the persons on his invitation list were carefully elected
and the tables, the exotic flowers, and the gold and silver plates
were also well chosen.
Dorian Gray, who care so much about the clothes he wore,
the place he lived, the things he used, did not dare to face up
with his own portrait, which symbolized his ugly soul, his bad
eaviors and his distorted character. b
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 7
Table 1.
The illustration of the splitting up of Dorian’s body and soul.
Dorian’s Body and Soul Split up Gradually
under the Drive of His Evil Desires
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian Gray’s spiritual eco-
logical system went to collapse step by step, which can be
shown in Table 1.
In Lacan’s opinion, the social atmosphere is very important
in the process of moulding a person’s character (Lacan, 1977).
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian Gray’s soul and body
were perfectly agree with each other and his spiritual ecological
system was in complete harmony before Dorian Gray met
Henry, who put excessive enjoyment on the first place. Unfor-
tunately, Dorian Gray met Henry and later they kept in close
touch with each other. So the naïve and kind-hearted Dorian
Gray was corroded dreadfully under the influence of Henry’s
words, ideas, and behaviors since Dorian Gray became ac-
quainted with Henry. Under the drive of being young forever,
inspired by Henry’s life ethic, Dorian Gray produced the vi-
cious idea that how wonderful it would be if the picture would
become old on his behalf. “If it were I who was to be always
young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—for
that—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the
whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!”
(Wilde, 2007) It was the first time that the evil desire came into
Dorian Gray’s mind. Dorian would like to sell his soul for his
so-called “always young” which means maintaining beautiful
appearance forever. Proper desire is one of the necessities of
each person, but it will be dangerous and destroyable to any
person if the person’s desire is released more than what is nor-
mal or necessary. Desire is the food and water of a person’s
spiritual ecological system. The suitable provision will keep the
system run in order and develop healthily, but excessive supply
of food and water will destroy the system.
“What did it matter what happened to the colored image on
the canvas? He would be safe. That was everything. He drew
the screen back into its former place in front of the picture,
smiling as he did so…” (Wilde, 2007) From this kind descrip-
tion we knew Dorian Gray absolutely enjoyed his beautiful
appearance no matter what change would happen on the canvas.
And he also began to appreciate his good external appearance
regardless of his internal degrading soul which was obviously
shown on the evil and aging face on the canvas. “…and stand,
with a mirror, in front of the portrait that Basil Hallward had
painted of him, looking now at the evil and aging face on the
canvas, and now at the fair young face that laughed back at him
from the polished glass. The very sharpness of the contrast used
to quicken his sense of pleasure.” (Wilde, 2007)
Dorian Gray fell into the whirlpool of excessively enjoyment
under the cover of his external beautiful appearance and the bad
influence of Henry. Dorian’s evil desire was released to o much
to be controlled and the vicious desire gradually became so
strong to have the power over his body. The distance between
Dorian’s soul and body went farther and farther.
Suitable personal desire is the necessary basis for a person to
live, and it is also the premise for the society to develop, so the
suitable desire is moral and preferred. But excessive evil desire
will be dangerous and destroyable to others, to the society, so it
is immoral (Li, 2005). “‘To see my soul!’ muttered Dorian
Gray, starting up from the sofa and turning almost white from
fear.” “‘Yes,’ answered Hallward gravely, and with deep-toned
sorrow in his voice, ‘to see your soul. But only God can do
that.’” “A bitter laugh of mockery broke from the lips of the
younger man. ‘You shall see it yourself, to-night!’ he cried.”
(Wilde, 2007) After enjoying so many sweet experiences under
the cover of the external beautiful appearance, Dorian Gray’s
evil desire became inflated infinitely day by day. In order to
conceal his own ugly soul, Dorian Gray killed his only true
friend who had seen his bad soul under the drive of his inflated
evil desire. “He (Dorian Gray) rushed at him (Basil) and dug
the knife into the great vein that is behind the ear, crushing the
man’s head down on the table and stabbing again and again.”
(Wilde, 2007)
Dorian Gray who had lost his senses under the control of evil
desire wanted to destroy all the evidence which recorded his
murder. In order to satisfy his bad desire, Dorian Gray though
of Alan Campbell, a promising and talented young man who
locked himself all the day in his laboratory to focus on his che-
mistry. Alan Campbell was forced to promise to help Dorian
Gray destroy all the evidence. At the same time, something
changed on the canvas. “What was that loathsome red dew that
gleamed, wet and glistening, on one of the hands, as though the
canvas had sweated blood?” Later Campbell committed suicide
because he could not bear the tortures of his guilty conscience.
In such a way, Dorian killed Campbell indirectly, but his con-
science was not troubled at all.
Desire is the motivation to a person’s development, and it is
also the origin of a person’s spiritual ecological crisis (Wang,
2011). The changes of the picture were the records of Dorian’s
excessive release of evil desire. In order to meet his inflating
vicious desire of destroying any bad evidence, Dorian Gray,
whose spiritual ecological system had completely collapsed,
grabbed the knife, which had killed Basil, and pointed it to the
picture. With a horrible cry in its agony, the knife stabbed into
Dorian Gray’s body. Lying on the floor, in evening dress, he
was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage, while the
portrait was in all the wonder of his exquisite youth and beauty.
Dorian’s body died. Dorian’s soul revived. Dorian’s soul and
body split up completely.
The Inspiration of Dorian’s Spiritual Ecological
Crisis to the Modern People
With the rapid development of science and technology, on
one hand people’s material living standard has been improved
to a great extent, but on the other hand people’s spiritual living
standard has not been cultivated at the same level. Some statis-
tics and reports show that more and more people’s spiritual
factors are not in the state of balance and stability. Thus their
spiritual ecological systems do not run in the right orbit.
Dorian’s Spiritual Ecological Crisis Makes Modern
People Review Their Own Life Style
In The Picture of Dorian Gray , Doria n Gray indulge d himse lf
in the pursuit of keeping up appearances such as handsome
appearance, fine clothes and good postures, but he did not cared
about his internal goodness at all. To some extent, Dorian’s life
style in the novel alludes to the life style of some modern peo-
ple. Individualism, utilitarianism, money worship, and consum-
erism prevail in some places among some people. Some people
would probably become dishonest and greedy for more profit.
Empty promises, deception and immoral conducts intensify the
conflicts between one person and another. Although the modern
people can pick up their mobile phones to call a person at any
time, the spiritual distance between one person to another is be-
coming farther and farther. At present, the cases of committing
suicide, taking drugs, divorce, melancholia, extramarital rela-
tionship has become more and more obvious. Nowadays so
many people are the reproductions of Dorian Gray. It is not
difficult for us to make a conclusion that such bad things result
from the abnormal spiritual ecological system.
Dorian’s Spiritual Ecological Crisis Stimulates People
to Pay More Attention to Their Own Spiritual
Ecological System
Dorian Gray’s ending up in committing suicide strike fear
into our hearts. In order to live longer and happier, we must and
have to be fully aware of what we did and what we will do. We
must try our best to make our spiritual ecological system run in
the right orbit and maintain the balance and stability of the
spiritual factors (Shen, 2011). We should appreciate all that our
friends did for us and in turn, we are supposed to help our
friends when they need our help. We are expected to love our
lovers sincerely. The internal goodness like noble soul, polite
behaviors and good character is indispensable to each excellent
citizen. We should always think about what we can contribute
to our family, to the people around us and to the society.
At the same time, the government is expected to make its any
effort to improve people’s spiritual ecological system; the jour-
nalists and the public media are supposed to play their part in
this issue: they should keep the citizens well-informed of the
potential harm of the abnormal spiritual ecological system; we
should be fully aware of what is a real and normal human being.
Each human being must and have to own the ability to love his
lovers, to love his friends and to love each person around him,
gain the correct aesthetic ethic to live a normal life, and obtain
the necessary ability to develop our own desire in the right orbit.
Only does a person’s spiritual ecological system runs in order,
he can live normally and make contributions to others, to the
society (Liu, 2009).
The paper is under the project of the Importance of Ecologi-
cal Literature in British and American Literature Teaching
(SZ123002). All the project members made their contributions
to the paper. I also thank all my friends and classmates who
lives in different cities, which made the investigation possible.
Fromm, E. (2007). The art of loving. Beijing: The Commercial Press.
Lacan, J. (1977). Ecrits: A selection M. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavis-
Li, C. (2005). On ethics and desires. Journal of Academic Forum, 2,
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 9
Li, P. (2011). The improvement of aesthetic culture: The education of
drawing provide the basis of character ethics. Journal of New Corses,
1, 27.
Liu, W. L. (2009) On spiritual ecology and social ecology: What we
can not ignore. Journal of Theory and Reform, 2, 95-98.
Lu, S. Y. (2006). The room of ecological criticism. Shanghai: East China
Normal University Press.
Shen, Y. (2005). On spiritual ecology and ethics. Journal of Guangxi
Education College, 2, 100-102.
Wang, N. S. (2011). On desires—The motivation and crisis of people.
Journal of Ningbo U n iversity of Technology, 3, 6-8.
Wilde, O. (2007) The picture of Dorian Gray. Signet Class ics.