A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is an exceptional book by James Joyce, a renowned Irish writer. Arguably, one of the key aspects of the story is the depiction of a character, Stephen Dedalus, who aspires to be an artist. The story explores his transformation from the good and religious boy he is to a man who ends up running away from his hometown, denouncing his religion and social constraints looking for a world of freedom to express his artistic self. The story navigates the transformation of the boy from an immature believer to a mature college student who can decide what to believe.
Another story that reflects on the changes in the society is The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. The story is based on a character Dorian and a mystical painter Basil Hallward. Basil paints Dorian’s picture with much enthusiasm as he views Dorian as very beautiful. However, the painting turns out to be a reflection of Dorian’s soul and as such, the worse he sins, the older the painting appears. Dorian is also introduced to a cultic religion known as Hedonism, which is based on the concept of enjoying pleasure and sin. This religion contradicts all other religions. In the end, Dorian kills himself and loses sight of whom he is, thinking that the painting was aging, but it turns out that he was the one who was aging all along.
James Joyce has set the novel in the late 19th century. The story revolves around Ireland. Stephen Dedalus is a young boy who grows up in the country raised in a highly Christian background, with his entire family being strict Catholics (Bloom 2). Dedalus is also taken to a strict Catholic boarding school, which he hates. While in school, Stephen slowly begins losing his faith in his religion and shedding off his social and religious constraints. At Clongowes Wood College, Stephen begins developing his personal identity that would determine how he would eventually shed off his religious, social, familiar and political constraints (Joyce 25). The key factor that leads him to denounce of the politics of his country is a furious argument at dinner whereby Charles Stewart Parnell, a former Ireland politician is the topic after news of his death surface.
While Stephen and the entire family move from Clongowes to Dublin, after his father is faced with some financial restraints. At Dublin, Stephen moves to learn a little more about immorality to some extent where he experiments with a prostitute in Dublin. Afterward, he feels extremely ashamed. As such, Religion here is seen as a factor that slows down the people from being free. As such, freedom has been largely constrained for the various students. The concept of religion has been indicated as to giving an individual the feeling of guilt. However, this does not mean that he stops sinning from there henceforth.
Although Stephen is so guilty about his encounter with the Dublin prostitute, he proceeds to commit a variety of other sins such as gluttony, masturbation and visits more prostitutes (Joyce 53). He enjoys these pleasures. However, the religious constraints come in once more when he goes for a weekend retreat with members of his church who preach about hell fire and how sins will be punished. It makes him go back to his religious beliefs and asks for repentance, only to give up a few days later after he lusts for a girl by the beach. In this context, James Joyce shows the various moral issues that surround the context of religion and its impact on people. Stephen’s devotion to God is not as strong as sexual beauty.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, on the contrary, offers a different perspective on the construct of religion. The aspect of religion in the book has been represented by the context of a cult, Hedonism, which goes against all possible beliefs of currently religious people. Dorian is introduced to Lord Henry Wotton, who then introduces Dorian to the cult. Dorian is mesmerized with Hedonism, and he began sinning at an astonishing rate (Rudzki-Weise 3). He first sexually abused a girl who later killed herself making his soul more tarnished and making his painting age a little more. As time went by, Dorian sinned even more and refused to turn back to the right path of morality.
Wilde also indicates the concept of class in a negative manner insinuating that the wealthy are morally degraded. Lord Henry Wotton is a very rich man who loves spoiling his friends with lavishes of life (Wilde 50). Additionally, Basil has also been portrayed to be a gay man, or a bisexual human who lusts for Dorian. During the time setting of the book, such behavior was completely unethical and immoral. Dorian has also been portrayed as a rich man, who is rather selfish as well in his decisions. For instance, despite his love for Sibyl Vane, he breaks up their relationship because she apparently quit acting. Sibyl Vane eventually kills herself due to the heartbreak. The rich have also been portrayed as lacking good moral judgment. For instance, Lord Henry Wotton gives Dorian a book that describes in detail pornographic content that Dorian makes his Bible.
When both books are compared, they tackle the issue of religion from different perspectives. While James Joyce shows the aspect of religion as a good thing, and the actor as a bad person, Oscar Wilde explores the concept of Hedonism, which would be termed as the source of nihilism in contemporary society (Wilde 20). Wilde explores the concept from a perspective that shows that it is immoral and bad for the soul, as shown when Dorian eventually kills himself while he thought that he was tearing the painting. James Joyce explores the concept of guilt that Stephen felt for engaging in immoral acts and shows his aspect of subscribing to repentance. In relation to social class, Wilde explores the nobility in the family, whereas Joyce explores the concept of financial difficulty by Stephen’s parents.
Arguably, it is evident that most authors view the concept of religion from different perspectives. For most people, religion acts as a constraint. As such, authors explore the concept in most of their works. Religion, class and education have been noted as key pillars of the society. Joyce explores the concept of education as serving to change people’s perspective on religion. For instance, when Stephen goes to University, he makes it his objective to break free from all religious, familiar, class and political constraints, which thus shows that educated people seek freedom. Additionally, Wilde also reflects on an educated bunch, with most of his characters being highly educated.
Bloom, Harold. James Joyce's a Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man. Broomall, PA: Chelsea House, 1999. Print.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Vancouver: Fairleigh Dickinson University, 2014. Print.
Rudzki-Weise, Jannis. Aestheticism in Oscar Wilde's "the Picture of Dorian Gray". München: GRIN Verlag GmbH, 2010. Internet resource.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Victoria: McPherson Library, 2011. Print.