The Decay of Lying | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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The Decay of Lying | Symbols


The Mirror

Wilde uses the symbol of the mirror to help convey the notion that life imitates art. Cyril asks whether Vivian truly means "that Life in fact is the mirror, and Art the reality?" Vivian affirms that it is indeed "true that Life imitates art far more than Art imitates life." He later continues, "Life holds the mirror up to Art, and either reproduces" what the artist has imagined or "realizes in fact what has been dreamed in fiction." The reflection cast in a mirror thus comes to counterintuitively represent life emulating art rather than art emulating life. This allows Wilde to more effectively convey the meta-commentary and paradox he presents. The reflection cast by the mirror implies self-referencing, and it also communicates a sense of the circularity of paradoxes through the seemingly self-contradictory idea of art reflecting life reflecting art.

Classical Greek Figures

Wilde uses the Classical Greek figures of gods and goddesses as a way to symbolize his assertion that life imitates art. Vivian notes his appreciation of the ancient Greeks' objection of realism "on purely social grounds," and he embraces their idealization of form. He claims that "with their quick artistic instinct," the ancient Greeks fully understood life's imitative nature "and set in the bride's chamber the statue of Hermes or of Apollo, that she might bear children as lovely as the works of art that she looked at." Vivian also uses Classical Greek figures to raise the idea that art is not reflective of life but rather precedes life. He asks Cyril, "Do you think that Greek art ever tells us what the Greek people were like?" Vivian further prompts Cyril by asking him if he believes "that the Athenian women were like the stately dignified figures of the Parthenon frieze." Vivian's point is that the women of the ancient world were not the models for the Classical figures but rather sought to be like them, and that the age of history reflects the art of the time, but art does not reflect the age. Wilde's inclusion of Classical Greek figures helps illustrate his notion that inspiration for life is derived from art, not the other way around.

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