In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray,Wilde connects multiple literary elements such as imagery,tone, style, and characterization. By doing so, Wilde guides the reader’s experience of the novel through reoccurringthemes such as beauty, self-absorbance, and human evil. These elements are clearlydepicted in the protagonist of the novel: Dorian Gray.Inthe beginning of the novel, we find out that Basil, an artist employed by LordHenry, painted a portrait of Dorian Gray that captured beauty and youthfulness thatLord Henry admires. In the portrait there was a man who looked innocent andthat was how Dorian’s character began.
Dorian didn’t place a value on hisappearance. On the other hand, people like Basil put a value on Dorian’s physicalbeauty with high praise. “Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with hisfinely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There wassomething in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candour of youthwas there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity” said Basil to Lord Henrywhen describing Dorian (Wilde, pg. 26). LordHenry then asks Basil to invite Dorian over even though Basil has reservesabout the two meeting due to Lord Henry’s perceived negative influence onothers. Lord Henry is an intellectual man that states virtues and imposescertain beliefs onto those around him, not thinking about the effect his wordshave on others.
An example would be when Lord Henry says “I like persons better than principles, and I like personswith no principles better than anything else in the world” (Wilde, pg.18).The reader is able to see that Lord Henry’s interests are in being an observer andtesting his principles with real people.
As the narrator gives these qualities ofintellectual power and persuasion to Lord Henry, the tone of the dialoguesounds as if Lord Henry is deeply admired, yet the narrator also has aton of judgment on Lord Henry later on in the novel. Wilde states that Lord Henry has failed to put his philosophy to the test.Although Lord Henry advocates sin, he’s hardly a sinner himself and hisunderstanding of the soul never includes the beliefs that Dorian eventuallyacquires from him.
Additionally,Lord Henry advocates a return to the “Hellenic ideal” in ancient Greece wherethe appreciation of beauty meant everything. Lord Henry believes that in hiscurrent time, people live by a morality that includes self-denial. This statementgoes against the Victorian morality and dismisses the idea of sin as a part ofthe imagination. Thus, asthe novel progressed, Dorian is seen to live a fraud life that imitates LordHenry’s life where Dorian claims to value beautyand youth above all else. “I know, now, that when one loses one’s good looks, whatever theymay be, one loses everything. Your picture has taught me that.
Lord HenryWotton is perfectly right. Youth is the only thing worth having. When I findthat I am growing old, I shall kill myself” says Dorian (Wilde.
Pg.39). A statement like this suggests whatDorian might do in the future when he realizes he’s aging.
This statement alsodepicts how self absorbed Dorian’s character has become to the point in whichhe lives just to embrace his current youth and nothing more. When Dorianrealizes that he will keep his youthful appearance regardless of whateverimmoral actions he indulges in, he considers himself free from moralconstraints that ordinary people might have. He devotes himself to having as many experiences as possible disregardingthe consequences. Dorian also values hisphysical appearance more than the state of his soul, which is illustrated inthe degrading portrait.
As Dorian got closer with Lord Henry, Dorian’scharacter began to change and well as his image in the portrait. The readermight interpret this as, because it was Dorian’s character that was painted andnot his physical self, the portrait can change all it wants. As Dorian ignoredhis morals the painting turns into a more hideous, distorted representation ofDorian’s soul.The beginning ofthis change was when Dorian got engaged to Sybil Vane, a beautiful, talentedyoung actress. Dorian goes to see her perform every night and eventually asksLord Henry to help him get her hand in marriage. “You,who know all the secrets of life, tell me how to charm Sibyl Vane to love me! Iwant to make Romeo jealous, I want the dead lovers of the world to hear ourlaughter, and grow sad. I want a breath of our passion to stir their dust intoconsciousness, to wake their ashes into pain. My God, Harry, how I worshipher!” (Wilde, pg.
74) This desire is fulfilled and Dorian becomesengaged to Sibyl and shows her off to his friends at one of her performances. Meanwhile, Sibylrealizes that she is in love and decides that she doesn’t need to act in frontof Dorian anymore. Due to this revelation, she performs horribly and disgustsDorian and his friends. After the show, Dorian confronts Sibyl with fury anddeclares his love for her is anything but real. “Youhave killed my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stirmy curiosity.
You simply produce no effect. I loved you because you were marvelous,because you had genius and intellect, because you realized the dreams of greatpoets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown itall away.
You are shallow and stupid.” (Wilde, pg.115) Dorian’s statementclearly shows the reader that he was never truly in love with Sibyl but ratherwith the character that Sybil portrayed during her acts. Sybil sooncommits suicide due to Dorian’s harsh words and Dorian’s picture suddenlychanges. Almost everything has stayed the same in the portrait except for Dorian’ssmile which has changed from a once beautiful smile, to a cruel and corruptlooking grin.
From here on in the novel, the portrait changes in anincreasingly negative way making Dorian look almost monstrous.Additionally,through morbid imagery, the portrait finally represented Dorian in a full evilform when Dorian kills one of his best friends, Basil. Basil follows Dorianinto his house and wants to see his beloved picture of Dorian when he last saw it.While looking at the portrait, Dorian lashes out on Basil in rage. “He Dorian rushed at him Basil,and dug the knife into the great vein that is behind the ear, crushing the man’s head down on the table, and stabbing again andagain. There was a stifled groan, and the horrible sound on someonechoking with blood.
Three times the outstretched arms shot upconvulsively, waving grotesque stiff-fingered hands in the air. Hestabbed him twice more, but the man did not move. Something began totrickle on the floor. He waited for a moment, still pressing thehead down. He could hear nothing, but the drip, drip on thethreadbare carpet” (Wilde, pg.
204). The reader can tell thatDorian has lost all morality and encompasses all evil that a human could possesin this scene.Afterthis incident, Dorian’s portrait has a look of slyness in his eyes, along withblood stains on his hands. Wilde had incorporated features of both fantasy and realisminto his style of work in this novel through using the themes of morbidity and humancapacity for wickedness. The author understood the reality of human natureand the darkness one could hold and illustrated those traits through Dorian. Soon,thetone of the novel becomes critical towards Dorian, showing that Dorian becomesless and less compelling as he continues to get more paranoid and stuck in hismemory which seemed to eating his soul.
Thus, Dorian confronts Lord Henry about howmiserable his past twenty years were since he met Lord Henry. Dorian criticizesthe yellow book saying that the book inflicted him great harm and made him the viciousperson he is now. Dorian blames Lord Henry for giving him the book. “You poisoned me with a book once. Ishould not forgive that. Harry, promise me that you will never lend that bookto anyone. It does harm” (Wilde, pg.
279), says Dorian to Lord Henry. LordHenry only states back “My dear boy, you are really beginning to moralize. Youwill soon be going about like the converted, and the revivalist, warning peopleagainst all the sins of which you have grown tired.
You are much too delightfulto do that…. As for being poisoned by a book, there is no such thing as that.Art has no influence upon action.
It annihilates the desire to act. It issuperbly sterile. The books that the world calls immoral are books that showthe world its own shame” (Wilde, pg. 279). Lord Henry refuses to believe that a book could have such power. Thismakes the reader think about whether or not it is Lord Henry’s fault for howDorian is like now or if it was Dorian’s fault to begin with. One might thinkthat because Lord Henry was the one who gave Dorian the book, knowing thatDorian fully absorbs what Lord Henry imposes on him, is responsible.
One mightalso think it’s Dorian’s fault for wanting to read the book in the first placeand wanting to stick around Lord Henry and listen to Lord Henry’s philosophies.Dorian’s fancy foreternal youth leads to the deterioration of his soul as seen in his portrait.The picture changes as a response to Dorian’s actions and reflects Dorian’sconscience and true self. In a sense, the portrait can be seen by the reader asa mirror to Dorian’s soul. Dorian is separated between his perfect unchangingphysical form and the horrors of his degraded soul in the portrait. Dorian’s desireof staying young was mentioned earlier on when Dorian first realized his beautyin the portrait.
“How sad it is! I shallgrow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain alwaysyoung. It will never be older than this particular day of June… If it wereonly the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picturethat was to grow old! For that-for that-I would give everything! Yes, there isnothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul forthat!” (Wilde, pg.
39)OscarWilde paradoxically reintroduces morality through the use of guilt that Dorian findshimself trying to escape by losing consciousness in drugs like opium. There’s aparagraph which listed a bunch of materialistic items that Dorian becomesinterested in that symbolized beauty, such as “gorgeous cope of crimson silkand gold thread damask, figured with repeating pattern of golden pomegranatesset in six-petalled formal blossoms…” and “chasubles, also, of amber coloredsilk, and blue silk and gold brocade, and yellow silk damask and cloth of gold…”(Wilde,pg.194). The long list gave the chapter a style of mundane reading and amonotonous pace for the reader to follow. This passage described how Dorian, getting used to the privilege thathis portrait allows him, devotes himself to acquiring as many experiences aspossible. Dorian tries to find “the true nature of the senses” by studying raremusical instruments, psychological effects of perfume, and the arts of jewelryand embroidery, all through looking at historical figures that were wealthy andby trying to emulate their lives.
Moreoever, Dorian begins to use his time to form moreaffairs. As the reader, we learn from Basil’s meeting with Dorian that Dorian causedthe downfall of many children, all of whom that have been brought to shame andeven suicide by their associations with Dorian. These outcomes of the childrendon’t bother Dorian.
Instead, the outcomes are seen as experiences to Dorian. Thiscould be seen as Dorian’s attempt to move away from Lord Henry’s influence. Anotherway of interpreting Dorian’s motives however is as if Dorian is a new Lord Henryin which Dorian hints certain beliefs to the children and leads them on my manipulatingtheir curiosity. In the end of the novel, Dorian ends up stabbingthe portrait of himself and dying along with the painting. It seems as ifbecause Dorian stabbed the portrait, he finally merged his soul and physicalcharacter together. Dorian finally realized that he didn’t want to live thismiserable aesthete life style anymore. When people came to see where he was,the only way they were able to recognize Dorian was through his rings, hismaterialistic possessions that he praised more than his morals. Dorian’s truebody was portrayed as more of an old and wrinkly body that Dorian ultimatelydidn’t want to have.
Dorian’s reality is now clear after he stabbed theportrait of himself. In conclusion, theliterary elements such as imagery, characterization, tone, and narration allplay a significant role in Dorian Gray’s character. The one significant image,the portrait, is depicted and explained constantly throughout the novel. As thereader, one can see that The Picture of Dorian Gray canbe read as a moralistic novel advising those of the risks that come withvaluing one’s appearance extravagantly and thus neglecting one’s conscience.This was emphasized through the author’s usage of reoccurring themes of humanevil through Dorian’s actions and his downfall.