In this novel, the first scene that is relevant for
the analysis is the scene in which Dorian Gray first discovers that the
portrait of him is uncanny because the painted image changed its appearance. As
Dorian describes, the “expression looked different. One would have said that
there 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 is
convinced that this is impossible but he still has little doubt about it
because 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 painting
is an illusion or reality. Of course, it is highly unlikely that this actually
happened so it has to be an illusion that exists because either Dorian makes it
up in his mind or because it arises in connection to supernatural reasons.
Hilary Grimes’ text helps to somewhat clarify this because she differentiates
between the uncanny and the supernatural, whereas “the supernatural relates to the external, to
disturbances in the exterior world, the uncanny is psychological, representing
disturbances in the internal body, or mind: in other words, the supernatural is
a cause and the uncanny an effect” (Grimes 7). This statement would confirm the
possibility that everything is only an illusion of Dorian’s mind that leads to
all the uncanny situations, fear, and death. The novel does not provide a clear answer to this
question, it makes it even more complicated through certain scenes in which the
illusion mixes with reality.

In this scene, the fact that the painting alters and
starts to look cruel is not the only thing that is happening, the scene becomes
even more uncanny when Dorian starts to draw references between him and his
representation, which means that the illusion influences Dorian’s reality. Due
to the fact that he has done some terrible things not long before, he notices
even more that “the strange expression that he had noticed in the face of the
portrait seemed to linger there, to be more intensified even and that it
showed him the lines of cruelty round the mouth as clearly as if he had been
looking into a mirror after he had done some dreadful thing” (Wilde 73). Dorian
is convinced that what happens to the face of the painting refers to his
actions. The face did not only alter, it somehow seems to change his facial
expressions, which are cruel in this case.

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What makes this scene uncanny is the fact that Dorian is generally
convinced that this situation is impossible and that supernatural things do not
exist. However, in some scenes, he still has doubts about this. He even tries
to find a logical explanation to why this happens and to what he has done in
the past to cause this. Dorian remembers a situation in Basil Hallward’s
atelier in which he

had uttered a mad wish that he
himself might remain young, and the portrait grow old; that his own beauty
might be untarnished, and the face on the canvas bear the burden of his
passions and his sins; that the painted image might be seared with the lines of
suffering and thought, and that he might keep all the delicate bloom and
loveliness of his then just conscious boyhood. (Wilde 73)

This memory
of 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 him
anymore, the illusion starts to develop connections in Dorian’s reality. He
tries 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 is
impossible. After realising that this reason would be absurd and impossible he
has to convince himself that these things do not exist. “No; it was merely an
illusion wrought on the troubled senses. The horrible night that he had passed
had left phantoms behind it. … The picture had not changed. It was folly to
think so” (Wilde 74), this passage shows how desperately he tries to persuade
himself that he is not crazy and that what he sees is not real. This point is
only reached because he is not able to distinguish between reality and
illusion, which is the reason why Dorian starts to feel fear and why the
painting and the whole scene seem uncanny.

To go even further, this overlap of
reality and illusion creates a connection between Dorian and the image of
himself, which is a reference to the phenomenon of the doppelgänger. A “person’s
doppelgänger is another person who looks exactly like them” (Oxford 452), this
could lead to misunderstandings and confusion. This phenomenon is already
described by Sigmund Freud, he explains the concept as follows, “the subject
identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his
self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own. In other words, there
is a doubling, dividing and interchanging of the self” (Freud 234). This is
exactly what happens to Dorian because he feels like he cannot trust his senses
anymore and he is totally confused and not able to see clearly which his true self
is. Additionally, an interchanging of the self takes place when Dorian starts
to see connections between what he does and what happens to the doppelgänger,
he transfers his characteristics to his doppelgänger. This results in Dorian’s
fear 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 uncanny
effect develops, “an uncanny effect is often and easily produced when the
distinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something that
we have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality, or when a
symbol 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’s
personality and therefore the distinction between them is effaced. For this
reason, the uncanniness around them persists because for Dorian, as well as for
the reader, the question of whether the things that are happening are an
illusion or reality is not clarified.

In general, “the ‘double’ was originally an insurance against the destruction
of the ego, an ‘energetic denial of the power of death'” (Freud 235). Dorian’s
doppelgänger has been created in a similar situation because Basil wants to
save the perfection he sees in Dorian. It works as a protection against Dorian becoming old and as the denial that he
will lose his perfect appearance and die someday. Of course, this is not the
case and the opposite takes place, the painting influences Dorian in a negative
way; he fears it, even more, to become old, he behaves uncannily because his
actions are related to the painting and instead of keeping his perfection, he
goes crazy and dies. This fits the negative connotation of the phenomenon of
the doppelgänger because it is associated with ghostly and evil things and from
“having been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of
death” (Freud 235), in general, as well as, in the relationship between Dorian
and his portrait.

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