To every people who love themselves more than anything.
MALE GAZE AND SILENCING TOWARDS SYBIL VANE CHARACTER IN OSCAR WILDE’S THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY NOVEL:
A FEMINIST ANALYSIS
When people talk about woman, there will be lots of perspectives, meanings, even judgments towards her. A woman is essentially inborn with her speciality, included her body, sex, gender, behaviour and attitude. For hundred maybe thousand years, women are oppressed by rules and conventional system which people called it a gender construction. Women themselves do not know about the advantages and disadvantages in obeying those gender rules which people make, or they could have been zipped by a patriarchal society that silence and them to do whatever men want.
The word feminist itself is based on a word named “female” or “feminine” which shows both its sex and gender towards woman. All in this world are always have binary opposition, however, according to feminist theorists that binary opposition itself basically from the men’s point of view. Like the word strong/weak, sun/moon, man/woman, male/female, masculinity/femininity are considered as patriarchal thought that the first word which has a good meaning always put in first before the binary and it refers to men.
The first wave of feminism mostly talks about an oppression towards woman who cannot fight against the patriarchal society in early eighteenth century. We can see from many novels which the authors usually are men, put the figure of woman as a weak, demanding, and irrational one. Men authors in the classic era are more popular than women one since the educated people at that time are usually men, like this famous novel titled The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
This story tells about an over twenty years old boy named Dorian Gray who is born with perfection of his face and comes from wealthy society. A prosper boy like him belongs to people upper class society, too, which in the story are Lord Henry Wetton and famous artist Basil Hallward. Dorian Gray has many affairs with many women, but one can be noticed is his relationship with Sybil Vane, a young beautiful street actress who is dumped by him since Sybil has no longer show her charming. Not only because of loosing her charming, the reason why he breaks his relationship with Sybil because of Lord Henry’s bad comments about her that make Dorian feels ashamed to his friends.
It shows that appearance and performance is very important among men. They will feel satisfied when a woman is in a good or beautiful perform and other men adore her, too; it is called a male gaze. This paper will analyze about Sybil Vane character that experience a male gaze and also becomes a victim in silencing women in nineteenth century.
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
How do the male characters show their male gaze towards woman especially to Sybil Vane character in Oscar Wilde “The Picture of Dorian Gray”?
When Dorian Gray meets Sybil Vane, a young and beautiful but belongs to lower class and her job is a street actress, Lord Henry exactly says that she does not deserve Dorian Gray. Lord Henry actually is a wealthy man in his middle-age who never appreciates woman’s existence. He feels that marriage is just a symbol of “a duty”, it is showed from his say about his wife, “When we meet,—we do meet occasionally, when we dine out together, or go down to the duke’s,— we tell each other the most absurd stories with the most serious faces. (Wilde 7)”
Lord Henry thinks that woman is absurd; he gives an example about marrying a woman will make man having a boring activity like he does. Most of women are represented as irrational and have no idea of what is in patriarchal mind. Men just give all what woman’s want and never ask in deep about what is on woman’s mind. Woman cannot understand what is in man’s thought and man actually does not give a chance to woman to speak up her thought.
That is a why Irigaray posits that woman has only two choices, to keep quiet (for anything a woman says that does not fit within the logic of patriarchy. In addition, to imitate patriarchy’s representation of herself as if he wants to see her (Tyson 101). It means that woman’s words are meaningless and cannot reach a thing which man calls ‘a patriarchal thought’. This case is strengthen by Lord Henry’s Wetton comment to Sybil Vane after Dorian tells him about her appearance instead he never sees who is Sybil Vane actually,
“Never marry a woman with straw-colored hair, Dorian,’ he said, after a few puffs. ‘Why, Harry?’ .‘Because they are so sentimental.’ ‘But I like sentimental people.’
‘Never marry at all, Dorian. Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed (Wilde 54)”
In arrogant way, Lord Henry says many things about woman’s existence in his eyes, his male gaze. We can see here, that Lord Henry is depicted as rich, powerful, influential and mature man than Dorian, however, Dorian is depicted as innocent boy who needs advice about life from the expert, including about woman. Sybil Vane becomes a sign of an image of woman’s in male eyes: a doll, a beautiful sculpture whenever man wants to see it, she can be a joy and satisfaction to man’s feeling. From Lord Henry comments about Sybil Vane when Dorian tells him that she is a genius in beauty, “My dear boy, no woman is a genius: women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. They represent the triumph of mind just as we men represent the triumph of mind over morals (Wilde 55).”
It symbolizes that woman becomes a symbol of winning which is put the importance of man’s power to reach a triumph over woman. For Irigaray, the man looks the woman (subject) and the woman is looked at (object); that is a male gaze (Tyson 102). The more beautiful that man can get, the more he feels proud of himself among his friends, and this is one of reason why Dorian loves Sybil. Because when he looks her on stage, with all of her charm and beauty, he thinks that by loving Sybil, he can make other people feel jealous. All in men’s thought is about competition and power, and winning a beautiful girl can be one of condition that man must get in order to feel triumph.
At the moment when Dorian shows his lover to Lord Henry and Basil Hallward in order to give him self-appreciation, Dorian has ‘inside’ purpose when he shows Sybil’s charm and beauty, he will win the competition, and he can make other men feel jealous about him. And actually, Lord Henry says that Sybil Vane is the worst artist he ever met and this comment makes Dorian’s feeling broken and directly dumps Sybil Vane.
Dorian’s reason to break up the relationship cannot be accepted by Sybil Vane. Here, she portrays as mellow and irrational girl who loves Dorian too much. As we can see in Sybil’s utterance, “You came,—oh, my beautiful love!—and you freed my soul from prison. You taught me what reality really is (Wilde 93).” It seems that woman has no choice and stupid (from the sentence: ‘you taught what reality really is’). Wilde depicts the image of woman in less knowledge and less intelligence than man. For Simone de Beauvoir, man is considered as essential subjects or independent, while woman is considered as contingent being or dependent “creature” controlled by circumstances (Tyson 96). Woman is symbolized as dependant person, uneducated and powerless than man, and for patriarchal society, woman also a sign of ‘other’ which can not be compared to them.
When Dorian Gray dumps Sybil Vane, he says that Sybil has made him proud in front of his friends, and when she cannot give what Dorian (his male gaze) satisfaction, he says he is boring and his friends do too. It is showed in his explanation to Sybil Vane,
“You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir my curiosity. You
simply produce no effect. I loved you because you were wonderful, because you had genius and intellect, because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away. You are shallow and stupid. My God! how mad I was to love you! What a fool I have been! You are
nothing to me now (Wilde 95)”
Dorian characteristic shows how a man needs appreciation and pride among his friends. He will feel satisfied when other men feel jealous towards what he has, including a woman. Woman only becomes a thing, or creature that can be a symbol of man’s power and satisfaction.
In the nineteenth century, woman has become an object in satisfying man’s desire of pride and power. The male gaze that is explained by Irigaray has described what actually inside in most of man’s thought towards woman existence. First wave feminist also reveals about the silencing of woman’s words that she cannot speak up what she actually wants and decides or protests something, in addition, woman also portrays as lack of sense of logic (stupid), dependable and cannot think as well as man does. The character of Sybil Vane in this novel has been clearly exposed what is woman in the nineteenth century: only becomes a portrait of man’s desire and her silence.
Tyson, Louis. Critical Theory Today Second Edition.
: Routledge. 2006 New York
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. E-book.
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DORIAN GRAY AND SYBIL VANE