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Looking At Dorian Gray English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5391 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe use the narrators voice and symbols to reflect mental-illnesses in their main characters and this similarity in the usage allows a descriptive research. Therefore, this extended essay involves one of the relations between literature and psychology and the research problem was: How do the voice of the narrator and the symbols support the psychological construction of Dorian Gray in The Picture of Dorian Gray and the Narrator in Tell-Tale Heart? Moreover, it is worth noting that the problem was analysed under a literary approach with a psychological approach as a support and this research briefly analyses how these literary elements highlights the character’s mind.

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The research is divided in two parts, the first is an overview to analyse the variables expressed in the research question: the narrator’s voice and his viewpoint, the narrative fragments, the symbolism and the psychological construction of characters. Subsequently, the second part presents the analysis on how the narrator’s voice and the symbols support the psychological construction of Dorian Gray and the Narrator in Tell-Tale Heart. As a result, it was stated the relation of support between the variables comparing the usages in both literary works.

Finally, I can conclude by saying that in both literary works, the narrator’s voice strengthens and corroborates the idea of the character’s mental illnesses; it also deeps in the protagonists’ minds and expedites the construction. As for the symbols, they represent the mental state of the protagonists and the elements which disturb them. They support and expedite the psychological construction by punctuating and elucidating their mad side.

Word Count: 263




INTRODUCTION …………………………………………………………………………………..5

CHAPTER I: LITERARY ELEMENTS …………….…………………………….…….6

The Voice of the Narrator and his Viewpoints …………………………………..6

Narrative Fragments ……………………………………………………………………..7

Symbolism …………………………………………………………………………………..8

Psychological Construction of Characters ………………………………………..8


The Narrator’s psychological construction ……………………………………….9

Dorian Gray’s psychological construction ……………………………………….15

CONCLUSIONS ……………………………………………………………………………………..21

BIBLIOGRAPHY …………………………………………………………………………………….22


Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde were two important writers in the 19th century; the former was from United States, he wrote The Tell-Tale Heart in 1843 and his narrative presents Gothic and magic elements; his narrators often present some mental disorders. The latter was from Great Britain, he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890 and his narrative presents plenty of descriptions and his enigmatic characters generally are controlled by their passions. Both authors highlight the mental disorder of their characters.

Thence derives the research question: how do the voice of the narrator and the symbols support the psychological construction of Dorian in The Picture of Dorian Gray and the Narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart? This research will prove that the narrators’ voices and the symbols support and expedite the psychological construction of both characters by punctuating and elucidating their mental diseases.

My personal motive is my admiration for both writers because I like their narrative and their works are the most read in Peru. Furthermore, I want to demonstrate the importance of the psychological approach in the characters’ construction because through its analysis we can understand them better.


The Voice of the Narrator and his Viewpoints

The narrator is the fiction teller of a literary work and the words used by him are considered as the narrator’s voice. This voice can tell the story from different points of view like in first, second or third person. In Oscar Wilde’s book, he presents a third-person narrator in his novel that is omniscient. On the other hand, Allan Poe presents a first-person narrator that is also a character. The features of both narrators are shown in the next chart:

Made by Angel Hernández Ortega [1] 

Narrative Fragments

Every story can use three narrative modes: The narration itself, the descriptions and dialogues or speeches. The author combines the descriptions and dialogues in different ways to make the narration more enriching. In the case of characters, the descriptions provide a better picture of them, also show different aspects of them that help to have a better comprehension.

The dialogues or speeches could be conversations between characters or monologues. They are very important because through the analysis of their content the reader can know the character’s features and corroborate if all what is said about him is true. More details are added in the following chart:

Made by Angel Hernández Ortega [2] 


Symbolism, as Graham Hough [3] states, is “the tendency to exalt the non-discursive elements” (Hough; 1967. p.128) It involves the hidden messages of things, settings, characters or actions; it is also the purpose’s revelation for which the author places those elements in his work. And the reader’s aim is to discover that concealed messages.

According to Jonathan Raban [4] , Symbolism also “allows an author to link the limited world of his character to…the systems of values” (Raban; 1968. p.101). The symbols’ analysis is crucial to have a better knowledge of the characters because the character “acquires a new importance when he is seen in the light of his symbolic counterpart” (Raban; 1968. p.101)

Psychological Construction of Characters

The psychological construction focuses its analysis on the character’s psychology and mind; it considers their behaviour, their way of thinking, what they say or what other characters say about them, the symbols and other aspects. Psychology as Richards Ivor [5] considers: is an “attempt to describe mind” (Richards; 1961. p.82) and is essential in the construction of characters because through its understanding the reader can determine their personality and have a better comprehension of them. Therefore this extended essay analyses the psychological construction from the narrator’s voice and symbols.


The Narrator’s psychological construction

The protagonist-narrator in Tell-Tale Heart is a murder who feels observed and controlled by an Eye. Apparently he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia because he depicts some characteristics such as hearing internal voices, believe that other people can read his mind, experiences hallucinations [6] and so forth. Allan Poe, to construct the protagonist’s psychology uses the voice of the narrator and the symbolical meanings.

The narrator’s voice is used from the beginning, when the Narrator says: “True! -nervous- very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses.” (Poe; 2010. p.1). In this cite, the protagonist introduces himself as a nervous and sick person. Although, he never mentions what kind of illness he suffers from, the rhetoric question about his madness gives signals of suffering from a mental disease otherwise he should not mention it.

Furthermore, it is important to notice that the Narrator repeats the words “very” and “nervous”. This emphasizes one characteristic associated with the schizophrenia that is a disorganized and repetitive manner of speaking. This technique of echo or duplicating voice is used along the whole story in the narrator’s voice. For instance: “Cautiously-oh, so cautiously-cautiously… how stealthily, stealthily” (Poe; 2010. p.1).

“It was open-wide, wide open… I moved it slowly-very, very slowly… hark! louder! louder! louder! louder! (Poe; 2010. p.1). These slurred and distorted speeches show the protagonist’s desperation to escape from his guilt; confirming at the same time the idea of a mental-ill narrator which has been so harshly affected that even his speech has been damaged.

Concurrently, the vast majority of words are adjectives used to describe how the murder was carried out, thus he shows his pride. This demonstrates that the Narrator cannot glance at the moral consequences of his actions because sane people will be afraid at the idea of killing someone; rather, this character things that it is normal and justified to kill other people. Moreover he considers the murder as an achievement and this awful idea demonstrates how far his illness has gone.

The notion of hearing internal voices is shown in the following excerpt: “I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth… in hell… am I mad” (Poe; 2010. p.1). In this instance his madness of hearing strange things goes with the hyperbole of hearing them from the earth, heaven and hell. This means that something has altered his mind and has started to have auditory hallucinations of voices from physical-non-existent places, redounding in his delirium.

It is important to realize the repeated rhetoric question about the Narrator’s mental disease and its purpose. The narrator’s voice is constantly asking him or to the reader whether he is mad or the reader considers him as a crazy person. This highlights the insecurity about his inner perspective and contributes to think that the protagonist does not know himself; thus the idea of his madness is strengthened.

Nevertheless he never recognizes his mental problems. For instance: You should have seen how wisely I proceed…” “Would a madman have been so wise as this?” (Poe; 2010. p.1). Thence the protagonist’s insistence in demonstrating his sanity is a double-edged sword that serves to intensify the idea of his madness due to the fact that this eager desire to convince everyone at all costs really annoys and is a nuisance for the reader. Thus the author compels to believe that the Narrator is insane.

The narrator’s voice continues along the whole story with this bothering technique which leads to believe that the Narrator is demented, for example: “If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body.” (Poe; 2010. p.1). It is essential to appreciate that nobody is judging him of being mad, rather he judges himself.

This proves that there exists a certain something inside him which is always reminding his malady. The inner something could be his torturing guilt conscience and through the telling of his murder the Narrator tries to get rid of it. Nonetheless that strategy does not work completely because, as it was shown, his voice reflects a desperate and afflicted man.

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Although the first-person-narrator tries to speak in a way to mask his schizophrenia, this attempt is overshadow by the echo technique and the repeated rhetoric questions along the whole story. Therefore the main objective of the usage of the narrator’s voice is to highlight and reflect his madness instead of concealing it. It is evidenced in this excerpt: “… am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily-how calmly I can tell you the whole story.” (Poe; 2010. p.1). Hence it could be stated that his vaunt of self-control is a self-betrayal because it shows the opposite.

From the foregoing, the narrator’s voice helps to delve into the Narrator’s mind and psychology. However, other supporting element is the hidden meaning of symbols. In Tell-Tale Heart the central symbol is the Eye; the secondary symbols are the Old Man’s body, the Watch, the Lantern and so on. As it was shown formerly, he is obsessed with not accepting his madness, otherwise he should not ask for it too many times. Simultaneously, he is obsessed with the Old Man’s eye that bothers him.

The previous idea is depicted in this passage: “I think it was his eye! yes, it was this!” (Poe; 2010. p.1). But, why this part of the body and what is it doing to him? The reason is that this Eye comports as a conscience’s regulator, which tells him that he has something bad and questions his acts. Moreover it is better than any other part of the body to represent the feeling of being gazed. When he tries to get rid of The Eye it means that he tries to silence his conscience which reminds his mental problems.

Also it is important to consider the analogy of The Old Man’s eye alike a vulture’s eye: “One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture” (Poe; 2010. p.1). Firstly, because a vulture is a bird which flies above us and from there it can see almost everything that happens below therefore it can also see the Narrator’s intentions, feelings and mind. Poe could have made this symbol-metaphor, to show how the narrator is upset at being watched and even controlled by it, confirming the concept of paranoia.

Due to the fact that the vultures are black, this could indicate the author’s desire to punctuate the Narrator’s dark side of schizophrenia. Apart from it, other important idea to consider is that if the Eye is like a vulture eye, this could mean that the narrator is dying inside in his mental deliriums. This useless Eye only can see in black symbolizing that the Old Man is the unique person who sees the narrator’s dark side.

As a token of thereof, the Eye is the main reason to kill the Old Man and it makes him feel nervous or freeze his blood: “Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold” (Poe; 2010. p.1). This is an extremist shown of the Narrator’s disease because it makes him believe that the Eye has superpowers. These hallucinations cause that he cannot distinguish the reality from fantasy. Hence derives his obsession with the Eye, which leads him to think that if he destroys the Eye, it would calm his excruciating mind.

Example of the foregoing is: “… rid myself of the eye for ever… He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.” (Poe; 2010. p.1). It demonstrates that the protagonist lives obsessed in an eerie world of hallucination caused by the Eye. As a complement, the Narrator’s brain is tormented by the Old Man’s death-body and heart which remind his crime. The author shows a mental-ill person through these body and heart because they are constantly disturbing the Narrator’s muzzy mind.

Moreover, the Watch’s sound is compared with the heart’s beat because its ticks seldom times bother people who seek peace and calm. In the protagonist’s case, he gets annoyed at hearing the ticks because his mind is too much distorted that he cannot even resist the faint sound of the second hand demonstrating the level of the Narrator’s mind perturbation. It is depicted when the officers talk to the Narrator and he hears the noise.

Poe submits two dialectical symbols which are Darkness and Lantern. The metaphorical connotation of the lantern is that it can illuminate the most darkness places, but in this case, the Narrator maintains the vast majority of light hidden only leaving to escape one ray. This means that the narrator dislike the light and prefers the darkness, because he feels better in a place as dark as his mind or because that light can reveal the hidden secrets of his mind.

The previous notion is shown in “open a…very little crevice in the lantern” (Poe; 2010. p.1). But this symbol raises its peak in its confrontation with the Eye: “a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye” (Poe; 2010. p.1). This event is very important; because it elucidates that the Eye is his main distorting element whereby the Narrator has paranoid schizophrenia. Moreover, all the Narrator’s actions happen at night, because he feels more secure and familiarized with the darkness, it is evidenced in: “I did for seven long nights-every night just at midnight” (Poe; 2010. p.1).

The symbolism of the nameless Narrator means that the protagonist is too much ashamed that he does not want to tell his name. Nevertheless, it allows thinking about the possibility that the narrator could be female. Considering it, all the Narrator’s perspective could change drastically, because the conception of a madman and how he carries out his murder is different from a woman who is more delicate in his acts.

Finally in this chapter it is elucidated how the voice of the Poe’s Narrator serves to delve into the inner life of the character and its altered speech represents strengthen the idea of schizophrenia. As for the symbols, they represent the disturbing elements for the protagonist and highlight his illness.

Dorian Gray’s psychological construction

Dorian Gray is the protagonist of Wilde’s book; from the beginning is shown as a beauty young man, pure, shy and naive. But he finishes being despicable, obsessed with beauty, youth and pleasure. Ostensibly he suffers from Narcissism, Dysmorphobia and has a Mental Disorder because he shows characteristics like an excessive pre-occupation with a minor defect in his body [7] , delusions of grandeur, carefree of moral values and a strong desire to be young forever. In order to convey these ideas, Wilde uses the narrator’s voice and symbols.

In this novel Wilde presents a third-person narrator. The narrator employs three sort of speech: the direct speech or dialogues and descriptions. The first idea of Narcissism commences in a dialogue between Lord Henry and Basil Hallward when Henry sees the portrait and says: “… my dear Basil, he is a Narcissus…” (Wilde: 1993; p.2) This demonstrates that his Narcissism is excessively perceptible that it is not necessary to meet him to have a conception of Dorian.

The narrator’s describes the character’s obsession and Narcissism by mentioning his thoughts, for instance: “He grew more and more enamoured of his own beauty” (Wilde: 1993; p.93) Moreover, his picture enlightens him as a Narcissus when the changes start to happen, it is elucidated through a narrator’s description referring to the canvas change “…in boyish mockery of Narcissus” (Wilde: 1993; p.2). The portrait evidences Dorian’s real personality; in particular the narcissistic mockery confirms the protagonist’s illness.

At the same time this picture is a symbol which takes the role of Dorian’s soul, mind, conscience and mirror of his interior. Trough this element, Dorian becomes obsessed with his own beauty because he was not aware of it, like in this direct speech: “…as if he had recognized himself for the first time.” (Wilde: 1993; p.18). Moreover, all the protagonist’s sins appear on the canvas and as a result the portrait becomes ugly and old, symbolizing how the Narcissism and egocentrism have devastated his mind.

The portrait is a teacher of Narcissism; it is depicted in the narrator’s direct-reported speech of Dorian: “…when one loses one’s good looks… one loses everything. Your picture has taught me that.” (Wilde: 1993; p.19). Or when the narrator mentions: “It had taught him to love his own beauty.” (Wilde: 1993; p.67). Other Narcissism’s teacher is Lord Henry, who in a dialogue with Dorian says: “You have a wonderfully beautiful face” (Wilde: 1993; p.16). Those elements transform Dorian into a Narcissistic, because they are always reminding him that he is extremely handsome.

On the other hand, Narcissism is also depicted with the adjectives used in the narrator’s voice to highlight his beauty such as: Adonis, Prince Charming, Masterpiece (the portrait) and so on. This adjectives are reported in a direct speech trough characters as Lord Henry: “…this young Adonis” (Wilde: 1993; p.2); Sibyl Vane: “I must call you Prince Charming” (Wilde: 1993; p.39) Basil Hallward: “It is my masterpiece” (Wilde: 1993; p.15); or the own narrator’s voice: “He could be made a Titan” (Wilde: 1993; p.26).

Other Dorian’s mind problem is his obsession with youth. His youth shows a capricious personality and makes of him an arrogant because he scorns all the people who lack of youth, beauty or charm. He wants to last young forever; this ambition is evidenced when he pronounces: “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!” (Wilde: 1993; p.19) The youthful vigour degenerates the protagonist’s way of thinking because it makes him to desire youth to all costs.

This character becomes shallower with Henry’s influence. It is proved through dialogues reported by the narrator like: “Realize your youth… Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!” (Wilde: 1993; p.17). These sorts of ideas lead Dorian to attempt to represent the supremacy of youth transforming him from man to almost an object. A show that he is a debauched man is that “I love beautiful things that one can touch and handle.” (Wilde: 1993; p.80). It demonstrates that his mind only focuses on physical appearance and not on feelings.

The character’s Narcissism adhered to his obsession with beauty and youth depicts that Dorian suffers from Dysmorphobia because he shows an excessive preoccupation with his own appearance. [8] It is displayed in the following excerpt: “I am jealous of everything whose beauty does not die… of the portrait” (Wilde: 1993; p.20) This hyperbole shows how his mind has been distorted that he is also jealous of material things like in “I am a little jealous of it for being a whole month younger” (Wilde: 1993; p.41)

The previous passage highlights Dorian’s aging preoccupation and jealousy of objects. This sickness makes him over-worried about his psychical aspect, thence the narrator describes Dorian as a man who always is wondering and comparing the beauty and age of things or people with his own. Moreover the portrait supports this brain-sickness because it is perpetually reminding his perfect body. Due to the fact that Dorian always looks at the picture, it can be stated that he deems himself as the greatest expression of youth and beauty.

Dorian’s obsession with the picture confirms the diagnosis of Dysmorphobia owing to the fact that it represents his beauty and a part of him. When Dorian’s portrait starts to change (Chapter V) he is terrified of its horrible physical transformation and he does not want to accept it possibly because he considers that every part of him should be perfect, even his picture. Hence can be stated that Dorian cannot bear the idea of being without his psychical attributes and it makes him feel afraid because “youth is the one thing worth having” (Wilde: 1993; p.16)

The narrator’s voice corroborates this mental malady because as a conscience, it manages to identify the reason of the protagonist’s doom. In the following excerpt, it is depicted how the narrator describes his youth and beauty extreme obsessions (Dysmorphobia) as causes of his ruin: “It was his beauty that had ruined him, his beauty and the youth that he had prayer for… His beauty had been to him but a mask, his youth but a mockery.” (Wilde: 1993; p.162). Thence can be established that the narrator tells directly the sort of brain-sickness.

The Mental Disorder and change are the most outstanding problems. Apparently, his disorder is rooted in his childhood because in a dialogue between Lord Fermor [9] and Henry Wotton (Chapter III), Fermor mentions that Dorian’s family story had been very uncomfortable. The implications of this fact and that he is an orphan are Dorian’s lack of love and parental guidance. Also it is represented through symbols, the principal is his portrait and the secondary symbols are the Yellow Book, Lord Henry, the White Colour and Flowers, the Opium Dens, Sybil and Basil.

As it was formerly mentioned, the portrait symbolizes Dorian’s bad side, his conscious and his mind’s state, moreover it points out that he is poisoning his soul with all his sins. Therefore it is hard for him to accept his dark side. His transition from an innocence figure to a repulsive silhouette is due to Henry Wotton and his book. Lord Henry in a dialogue recognizes him as the sin’s symbol: “I represent to you all the sins.” (Wilde: 1993; p.58).

Furthermore, Dorian’s idolatry to Lord Henry’s hedonism added to the Yellow Book represents the door to his down fall because they lead him to behave immorally. It is supported by the narrator in the following passage: “To a large extent the lad was his own creation.” (Wilde: 1993; p.42). Both symbols teach Dorian to pursuit his pleasures, mainly the Yellow Book which represents Henry’s harmful influence because it contains the Hedonism [10] tenets that teach him to live below his own moral code and lead him to a mental degradation.

The Colour White could be used to symbolizes peace or purity (Cross; 2003. p.114). In the beginning Dorian resembles white because he is an innocent person, but in the end he represents the opposite. This added to the similes between him and flowers symbolize that he is tender and pure. But in the development of the book the repetitions of these metaphors are dwindling until they are not mention because Dorian’s change does not allow being illustrated as a white flower or pure.

For instance in the first chapters the characters and the narrator use repeatedly flowers-metaphors: “His nature had developed like a flower, had borne blossoms.” (Wilde: 1993; p.40). But when Dorian requests flowers he says: “as few white ones as possible” (Wilde: 1993; p.229), it shows his transition from light to darkness in his mind because he cannot bear white flowers that reminds his insane mental state. Also the Opium Dens’ symbolism represents the dirty state of Dorian’s mind and his corrupt life style. In these places Dorian distracted his mind from the abominable of his crime by consuming drugs. Also these places symbolize his reasoning’s degradation because drugs distort his conscience.

Other symbols which affect Dorian’s psychology are Sibyl and Basil because his guilty for the murders is steadily tormenting him. His crisis for Sibyl’s demise marks the beginning of his psychological change. Henceforward the most important thing is he and due to this he can kill Basil without remorse. But later these factors are the principal reasons to commit suicide because they weigh heavily in his conscience that he cannot resist anymore: “I want to be good. I can’t bear the idea of my soul being hideous.” (Wilde: 1993; p.71). And his suicide is the biggest shown of his mental distortion.

To sum up, in this novel the narrator’s voice corroborates and gives signs of illness in the protagonist, moreover through his descriptions, directed speech and dialogues, the narrator deeps in Dorian’s mind, behaviour and strengthens the notions of Narcissism, Dysmorphobia and Mental Disorder. As for the symbols, they support every illness by representing the elements which affects Dorian and symbolizing his mental state.


I can conclude by saying that the narrator’s voice and the symbols support the psychological construction by expediting the psychological construction. Both of them strengthen and corroborate the idea of the character’s mental illnesses and in this way they catalyze the construction.

Wilde’s narrator support the construction by describing Dorian through his directs speeches and dialogues. In the same way Poe’s narrator through his speeches elucidates his own psychology; thereby the vast part of both constructions are established As for the symbols, they expedite the construction by punctuating and elucidating the characters’ mad side. Moreover, the symbols represent the disturbing elements such as the Eye or the Portrait; this provides signs about their psychology and helps to deep in their mentality.

However, there are some remaining problems to be solved, given the limitations of this work, which are: How does the characters’ psychology build the plot of both stories? What other narrative techniques are used to construct these characters? And so forth. I hope this research as well as the questions will serve to encourage further studies of these literary works.


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