In “The Decay of Lying”, Vivian preaches to Cyril about the importance of lying as an art form. The original reading given to the title was that one should not lie, and that a lie grows worse the more you build on it. However, we see this is not the case. Wilde personifies multiple concepts which suggests that he believes that art holds immense value and that it should be regarded above all else even above humans.
In “The Decay of Lying”, Vivian laments on the importance of art versus nature, something he believes to be a complete waste of time. He sees lying as a form of art that has declined in favor of facts and truth. Wilde employs concepts such as Art, Truth, Nature, and Life etc., and uses the pronoun “her” multiple times while referring to these concepts. In other words, Wilde gives these concepts a characteristic that is typically associated with a living thing. Wilde capitalizes the words Art, Nature and so on a number of times through the course of Vivian’s dialogue. He also uses the pronoun “her” more than once to refer to these concepts. To someone reading this piece, this unique style might not register as anything of importance as people were at that time and even in the present day, known to give their cars and countries female connotations. We might have heard people say “She’s beautiful” when they refer to a car or “America is known for her power.” However, we see as the dialogue progresses that Wilde uses this pronoun “her” to suggest that these concepts work on a cosmic level too grand for humans to really comprehend. In page 1084, Vivian narrates the tale of his friend, Mr. Hyde and it is in this scene that we see Vivian refer to the child as “it”. The ‘it’ here leads us to take the child as an inanimate object and this suggests that humans are nothing, that these concepts operate on a higher level humans are not privy to. There is also a scene where Vivian talks about the Greeks objection to realism and how it makes people ugly. “We try to improve the conditions of the race by means of good air, free sunlight… [and that] these things merely produce health, they do not produce beauty.” (1083). He uses the word “merely” suggesting health is not as important as the beautiful creations that Art can produce. This reiterates the idea that art is a magnificent things, the main point the dialogue is trying to convey. That lying is a form of art that Art has given to us and yet we do not practice it.
This raises the question of whether there is any substance to Wilde’s argument. He values lying as a form of art. To lie is to create. You are inventing something new when you lie. It also brings to mind the work of actors whose job is to lie, to take on a role and become whoever they have been tasked with playing. It is this performance that we watch and enjoy. This leads us to infer that lying is a form of art and while one might not be ready to accept the manipulative or morally skewed aspect of it such as lying for self-interest, there is something to be said about lying as a kind of performance.
Wilde, Oscar. “The Decay of Lying.” Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994. 1071-1092. Print.
Written by Emiope Mimiko
for: Engl 376
on: Feb 14, 2016.