Article Title

Oscar Wilde’s Salomé: Disorienting Orientalism


Yeeyon Im


This essay explores the complex relationship of Oscar Wilde's Salomé and Orientalism, a topic that has not received a due consideration in Wilde studies. Salomé has every look of Orientalism delineated by Edward Said; yet, its Oriental façade is undermined from within. Sacrilegious may it sound to the apostles of “Saint Oscar,” Salomé is Orientalist in its makeup, with its dream-like atmosphere, plethora of exotic objects, stereotypical characters and ideas all conveyed through the dazzling corporeality of language. Its plot also facilitates an Orientalist reading, which surrenders the sexual perversity of Salomé and Herod to Jokanaan’s Christian values. Wilde appropriates Oriental excess in a strategy of disidentification and ambivalence, effecting destabilization of gender and race distinction. The coincidence of Wilde’s catastrophe and Salomé’s death has led many critics to establish a link between the author and the heroine. However, Wilde does not fully identify with Salomé for all his sympathy; he disidentifies with her. Herod is Wilde’s official mouthpiece, who destroys Salomé to the satisfaction of Victorian morality. Wilde’s ironic self-awareness of his position in imperial London is reflected in the constant references to the Roman Empire as the source of Herod’s authority. Wilde orchestrates the Oriental spectacle as a negative mirror to Victorian patrons, yet his disorientalism obscures the mirror and questions smug identification. Salomé is an Orientalist play that destabilizes the very premises of Oriental discourse reinforced at the surface level. The power of Salomé lies in Wilde’s tacit acknowledgment of proximity between “us” and “them.”

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