The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

dorianWhat would you give for perfection? Would you sacrifice your money? Your possessions? Happiness? How about your soul? Think twice, because perfection is impossible. What may outwardly appear as perfection is never so. Underneath a pristine surface will always be found some form of corruption or imperfection.

Oscar Wilde explores the idea of perfection, beauty, sin, hedonism, accountability, and aestheticism through The Picture of Dorian Gray. When the story was first published in an 1890 edition of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, it received a lot of backlash due to content deemed “objectionable”, ““vulgar”, “unclean”, “poisonous”, and “discreditable” by the British press. However, the version published in the magazine had already been heavily edited by a Lippincott editor without Oscar Wilde’s knowledge, and was further edited before its publication in book form in 1891. The first unedited version was not published until 120 years after the story’s initial publication. Why was Dorian Gray so heavily edited? Due to the excesses, corruption, and indulgences held within its pages. The beauty of the novel lies within this very decadence.

The story centers around three main characters: Basil Hallward, Lord Henry Wotton, and Dorian Gray. Basil Hallward is an artist who develops an infatuation for Dorian Gray, a young member of London high society who often sits for his paintings. Lord Henry is an established society member and friend of Basil’s whose entire moral code is based on his conviction that “the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it”. When he asks Basil about Dorian, the artist responds that he “knew that [he] had come face to face with some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if [he] allowed it to do so, it would absorb [his] whole nature, [his] whole soul, [his] very art itself”, and passionately states that Dorian “is all [his] art to [him] now”. Lord Henry asks to meet Dorian, but Basil resists, insisting that Lord Henry is sure to corrupt him with his hedonistic values.

Despite Basil’s objections, Lord Henry and Dorian meet. That very afternoon, Basil finishes a portrait of Dorian that he believes to be the most beautiful work he has ever created. While admiring it, Dorian states that he wishes his physical self could remain as lovely and untouched by sin as the portrait, while the painting ages and corrupts. Dorian’s wish is granted, and he subsequently falls into a life of sin and opulence. As the years pass, his obsessions over the painting tear him apart from the inside, while his appearance remains spotless.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, of course, carries all the trademark wit and mastery of Oscar Wilde. There is an epigram on practically every page (a notable one is “we can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless”), and the dialogue is clever, thought-provoking, and at times humorous. Every word in the novel is deliberate, and Wilde’s prose is lyrical and absolutely beautiful. The Picture of Dorian Gray reaches into the (deep and dark) depths of the human soul and examines what is to be found there while asking a question – what does it take for man to become monster?

Reviewed by Tara F ’18

Invisible Man By Ralph Ellison

invIt is a universal experience for humans to battle with the solidification of our identities and the experience of self-exploration varies among each individual. For the main character of Ralph Ellison’s novel ​Invisible Man​, the struggle to define his identity is his greatest challenge.

From his education-driven life in the South, to the hustle and bustle of Harlem, the protagonist recounts the difficulties of self-discovery and establishing his purpose in life. Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of Ellison’s novel is that the protagonist’s name is never revealed to the reader. One’s name is arguably the most notable factor of their identity and it is given to you when you first enter this world in order to establish your singularity and character. Not only does the main character feel as though he is invisible, but Ellison’s decision to emit his name from the entirety of the novel relates enhances this belief and allows the main character’s struggle to define his identity to become a firsthand experience for the reader.

We become very familiar with the main character’s interests and qualities, yet despite this familiarity, we never learn his name which causes him to remain slightly foreign to us. One of the most renowned moments of Invisible Man​ is Ellison’s vivid description of the infamous “Battle Royale” which reduced young black men to animals. The main character and the other participants in the Battle Royale were forced to brutalize each other for the enjoyment of wealthy, white men. This moment displayed how the dehumanization of black men in this time period were so easily dehumanized and taken advantage of. ​Invisible Man​ is a difficult read as it confronts various instances of

racism and the difficulties surrounding defining one’s identity. Although it is a challenging read, the detail and descriptiveness are profound and overall I recommend this novel.

Reviewed by Sharde J ’18

Between the World and Me By Ta-Nehisi Coates

betweenInspired by James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me tackles the American racial crisis and sentiments of the necessity of securing one’s black body. Through his own personal narrative, Coates writes to his 15-year-old son, Samori, to explicitly portray many of the inevitable hardships that his son will face throughout his lifetime and that America’s dark past is to blame for the “black body’s destruction.” Coates’ novel is not so much that of a call to action, but instead an explanation of America’s lack of progress regarding racial injustice and also touches on the prevalence of the unconscious belief of superiority that is ingrained in the minds of white people.

Coates tells of various impactful moments in his life which span from his childhood through late adulthood. Many of these events were momentous in confirming the nearly complete lack of accountability concerning police brutality and many also served to illustrate the societal standard of being “twice as good,” which Coates asserted that black people are universally expected to meet. Coates relates the outcome of his experiences to the America’s history of the exploitation of “black bodies” and attempts to utilize these personal experiences as a platform to answer questions of racial injustice for his son. A powerful and poignant story that Coates tells is of his schoolmate Prince Jones. Although they were only acquaintances as Howard University, Coates describes that he always had a special affinity and appreciation for Prince. Many years after their college career had ended, Coates recalls the day that he heard a report on the news of a black man who was murdered at the hands of a police officer. The victim had driven to visit his fiance in northern Virginia, when he was suddenly shot down by a county police officer. There were no witnesses and when the police officer was interrogated, he claimed that the victim had attempted to run him down with his Jeep. Unbeknown to Coates at the time of the report, this black man was none other than his old companion, Prince Jones. Through this anecdote, Coates’ position seems to be that due to America’s horrid past, it is nearly impossible for black people to escape the looming danger of being disproportionately discriminated against, whether that be a threat, prison sentence, or more drastically, a victim of murder.

Coates captivates us by poetically illustrating the horrors of America’s past and that the idea of “race” is detrimental to everyone, but most prominently to black men and women. In his confrontation of today’s societal climate, Coates reminds us of only a handful of the victims of police brutality: Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown to name a few. He uses these victims not only as a sad reminder of the entrenched belief of police officers, that they have the power to obliterate a life, but to also emphasize the fragility of the “black body” to his son. In a more direct address to his son, Coates asserts that black people love their children with a certain “obsession” due to the prospect of the “black body” being broken down instantaneously by this society. He surmises that black parents would like to kill their children themselves rather than seeing them “killed by the streets that America made.” In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, we see a similar ideology when Sethe attempts to kill her children before the slave catchers arrive at her home. Coates effectively conveys the gravity of America’s racial crisis and solemnly describes his fears and reasoning for them. Between the World and Me is a compelling book that is thought provoking, moving, and powerful. I highly recommend this book and hope that the reader is able to consider the inherent injustices of America.

Review by Sharde J. ’18

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

crimeFyodor Dostoyevsky’s famous novel Crime and Punishment draws the reader into the unstable mind of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a poor student in 1860s St. Petersburg, as he contemplates the murder of a cruel and suspicious old pawnbroker. Raskolnikov tries to face the moral dilemma he is forced into by his murderous intent by using philosophical theories to justify his actions… or was his intent based on his theories to begin with? And what is the real punishment for a criminal, the punishment enacted by law or the guilt and psychological torment a criminal faces? It’s definitely not light reading.

The story opens with Raskolnikov leaving his apartment, taking great care to avoid his landlady, and coming out into the street. “I want to attempt a thing like that and am frightened by these trifles,” he thinks to himself, his monologue already revealing a conflicted and morally grey character. He isn’t sure yet whether he will do anything, or if he is even able to do that, asking “Why am I going there now? Am I capable of that? Is that serious? It is not serious at all. It’s simply a fantasy to amuse myself; a plaything! Yes, maybe it is a plaything.” But Raskolnikov already has a plan.

While considering that, Raskolnikov meets a drunkard named Marmeladov in a bar. Marmeladov tells him about his family and how they are suffering because of Marmeladov’s alcoholism and inability to keep a job. Raskolnikov eventually becomes closer to Marmeladov’s family, including his daughter, Sonia, who is a virtuous woman who was forced into prostitution to help her family. Raskolnikov’s own family also plays a role: his mother and sister travel to St. Petersburg after his sister gets engaged to a businessman, Mr. Luzhin. And, of course,

Raskolnikov’s loyal friend Razumikhin. The characters are complex, and how much sympathy a reader has for any character depends on the reader, not unlike how different people see others differently. The characters embody both the best and the worst of humanity; there are no perfectly pure angels and no truly evil devils.

Crime and Punishment is a deeply stressful read. The language, heavy themes, and psychology make it difficult to read, which is perfect for a book dealing with difficulty in every sense. Dostoyevsky is a masterful writer: the reader feels the pressures of guilt and anxiety on Raskolnikov, and the dark mood makes the very pages seem shadowed. This, along with the conflicting and complex chatacters and moral grey areas make it a book that evokes a range of reactions from a range of readers. It’s worth reading Crime and Punishment just to see how you react, who you sympathize with, what your perspective on each dilemma is. It forces any reader to think, and take a good look at society and at their own perspective. Where do you stand?

Review by Kayleen M. ’18

Room by Emma Donoghue

roomJack is a five-years-old boy, living with his mom, so called Ma…and a skylight, a chair, a door…and a TV with “fake” people in it…and Old Nick. Being born in a room, Jack believes the room he is in is the only reality. Although he, at the age of five, understands a lot, he talks about “next week when [he] will be six,” which illustrates how his learning is limited inside the room. Living in a small room—his whole world—, he wakes up, eats breakfast, eats lunch, looks out through the skylight, takes a nap, eats dinner…then his day ends as Old Nick comes back home and Jack goes back into his wardrobe. No, Jack doesn’t just like to sleep in a wardrobe. He is told to, since not only does Old Nick rape Ma most nights but also she doesn’t want to put his son into her world.

Her world is different from that of normal twenty-year-olds. A stranger approached to her when she was a high school student, asking her for help for his dog and he kidnapped her. Since then she has been stuck in a room and has had his baby. While all her friends go to colleges, hang out with friends, and spend time with their families, the only place that’s allowed for her has been the room. In this room “the wide of the walls is the same as the wide of the floor, [Jack] count[s] eleven feet going both ways, that means the floor is a square.” Basically, in the whole world, she has spent seven years in an 11 by 11 size room, with not only limited space but also a lack of freedom.

All these confinements, after all, make Ma and Jack’s escape more valuable. After their escape, the second half of the book depicts their lives to adjust to real society, something which Jack has never been to, or even seen. Ma reunites with her family; however, the seven years that she wastefully spent in the room were enough to transform her family into “her mother and new stepfather,” which damages all of their relationships. As Ma’s story of kidnap and escape come out to the whole world, they have interviews, get fan letters…and Ma attempts to commit suicide.

Emma Donoghue carefully, but successfully, portrays little Jack’s life from his perspective, from living and knowing only Room to escaping and adjusting to the real world — from a five-years-old boy who only knows only his mom, the skylight, and the chair to getting to know families, friends, and society. Especially Jack’s response to his Ma’s attempt for suicide demonstrates his growth; a five-year-old cutting his long hair to show his mom courage is impressive.

Overall, this book can help people with struggles, such as Jack and Ma’s or, in general, adjusting to society. I hope the novel Room will remain in people’s lives with its themes of adjusting to society and overcoming struggles…until strength overpowers any encounter.

Reviewed by Alanna K. ’18