In this novel, the first scene that is relevant forthe analysis is the scene in which Dorian Gray first discovers that theportrait of him is uncanny because the painted image changed its appearance. AsDorian describes, the “expression looked different. One would have said thatthere was a touch of cruelty in the mouth. It was certainly strange” (Wilde 73).This change already seems unrealistic but also uncanny. Of course, he isconvinced that this is impossible but he still has little doubt about itbecause the proof that the facial expressions changed is right in front of him.
This is the point at which the question arises if the altering of the paintingis an illusion or reality. Of course, it is highly unlikely that this actuallyhappened so it has to be an illusion that exists because either Dorian makes itup in his mind or because it arises in connection to supernatural reasons.Hilary Grimes’ text helps to somewhat clarify this because she differentiatesbetween the uncanny and the supernatural, whereas “the supernatural relates to the external, todisturbances in the exterior world, the uncanny is psychological, representingdisturbances in the internal body, or mind: in other words, the supernatural isa cause and the uncanny an effect” (Grimes 7). This statement would confirm thepossibility that everything is only an illusion of Dorian’s mind that leads toall the uncanny situations, fear, and death.
The novel does not provide a clear answer to thisquestion, it makes it even more complicated through certain scenes in which theillusion mixes with reality. In this scene, the fact that the painting alters andstarts to look cruel is not the only thing that is happening, the scene becomeseven more uncanny when Dorian starts to draw references between him and hisrepresentation, which means that the illusion influences Dorian’s reality. Dueto the fact that he has done some terrible things not long before, he noticeseven more that “the strange expression that he had noticed in the face of theportrait seemed to linger there, to be more intensified even and that itshowed him the lines of cruelty round the mouth as clearly as if he had beenlooking into a mirror after he had done some dreadful thing” (Wilde 73). Dorianis convinced that what happens to the face of the painting refers to hisactions. The face did not only alter, it somehow seems to change his facialexpressions, which are cruel in this case.
What makes this scene uncanny is the fact that Dorian is generallyconvinced that this situation is impossible and that supernatural things do notexist. However, in some scenes, he still has doubts about this. He even triesto find a logical explanation to why this happens and to what he has done inthe past to cause this.
Dorian remembers a situation in Basil Hallward’satelier in which hehad uttered a mad wish that hehimself might remain young, and the portrait grow old; that his own beautymight be untarnished, and the face on the canvas bear the burden of hispassions and his sins; that the painted image might be seared with the lines ofsuffering and thought, and that he might keep all the delicate bloom andloveliness of his then just conscious boyhood. (Wilde 73)This memoryof his absurd wish seems to have a connection to what happens in reality.Therefore, the fact that the painting changes is not completely absurd for himanymore, the illusion starts to develop connections in Dorian’s reality. Hetries to proof for himself that the changes are not only illusions in his head,but he fails because, otherwise, it has to be something supernatural which isimpossible. After realising that this reason would be absurd and impossible hehas to convince himself that these things do not exist. “No; it was merely anillusion wrought on the troubled senses.
The horrible night that he had passedhad left phantoms behind it. … The picture had not changed. It was folly tothink so” (Wilde 74), this passage shows how desperately he tries to persuadehimself that he is not crazy and that what he sees is not real. This point isonly reached because he is not able to distinguish between reality andillusion, which is the reason why Dorian starts to feel fear and why thepainting and the whole scene seem uncanny.To go even further, this overlap ofreality and illusion creates a connection between Dorian and the image ofhimself, which is a reference to the phenomenon of the doppelgänger.
A “person’sdoppelgänger is another person who looks exactly like them” (Oxford 452), thiscould lead to misunderstandings and confusion. This phenomenon is alreadydescribed by Sigmund Freud, he explains the concept as follows, “the subjectidentifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which hisself is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own. In other words, thereis a doubling, dividing and interchanging of the self” (Freud 234). This isexactly what happens to Dorian because he feels like he cannot trust his sensesanymore and he is totally confused and not able to see clearly which his true selfis. Additionally, an interchanging of the self takes place when Dorian startsto see connections between what he does and what happens to the doppelgänger,he transfers his characteristics to his doppelgänger. This results in Dorian’sfear of being crazy and an uncanny relation between him and his doppelgänger. Therefore,this situation fits to what Freud describes in his theory on how an uncannyeffect develops, “an uncanny effect is often and easily produced when thedistinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something thatwe have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality, or when asymbol takes over the full functions of the thing it symbolizes, and so on”(Freud 244).
In this case, the painting as the doppelgänger takes over Dorian’spersonality and therefore the distinction between them is effaced. For thisreason, the uncanniness around them persists because for Dorian, as well as forthe reader, the question of whether the things that are happening are anillusion or reality is not clarified.In general, “the ‘double’ was originally an insurance against the destructionof the ego, an ‘energetic denial of the power of death'” (Freud 235). Dorian’sdoppelgänger has been created in a similar situation because Basil wants tosave the perfection he sees in Dorian. It works as a protection against Dorian becoming old and as the denial that hewill lose his perfect appearance and die someday. Of course, this is not thecase and the opposite takes place, the painting influences Dorian in a negativeway; he fears it, even more, to become old, he behaves uncannily because hisactions are related to the painting and instead of keeping his perfection, hegoes crazy and dies.
This fits the negative connotation of the phenomenon ofthe doppelgänger because it is associated with ghostly and evil things and from”having been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger ofdeath” (Freud 235), in general, as well as, in the relationship between Dorianand his portrait.