The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

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Dorian has accepted that his soul is full of sin. When he shows Basil his true form, the one with sin written across its face, he believes he has no hope to be good. He let's Basil in on the truth because the guilt of watching Basil praise him despite the rumors about him is too much to bear. Basil is shocked to see the gross, wrinkled effigy of Dorian and implores that they ask God for forgiveness. He believes there is still a chance, and Dorian only needs to repent his sins. Dorian says with skepticism,“It is too late, Basil” (Wilde, 140). He believes his turpitude is immutable. Because he lacks the will to lead a moral life, he feels fine killing Basil and black mailing friends to clean up the mess.
When Alan Campbell is invited to Dorian’s house, he describes the situation upstairs to the chemist. The dead body is merely a thing on a chair resting its head on a table. Had he seen himself as a on who leads a moral life, he would not have invited Alan and turned himself in instead. Because he has already rationalized that he will forever live a corrupted life, he is not afraid to force a friend who has adamantly refused several times to clean up the dirty work to conceal his sins. The difference in attitude before and after his encounter with the mocking portrait is the belief in redemption.

Inside the book is the psychological study of a Parisian man who makes it his life goal to live as hedonistically as possible, and undergo “all the passions and modes of thought that belonged to every century except his own” ([2] Wilde 109). The book is written in a way that captivates, with “metaphors as monstrous as orchids and as subtle in colour” ([2] Wilde 109). Wilde writes of the book as he would write the experience of getting into a drug-induced stupor, with all of the color and hallucinations that come with it. In a way, the contents are nearly spiritual, so that “one hardly knew at times whether one was reading the spiritual ecstasies of some mediaeval saint or the morbid confessions of a modern sinner” ([2] Wilde 109).
Dorian’s response to it is fascination, then connection. It becomes a drug-like substance for him, and “Dorian Gray [cannot] free himself from the influence of this book” ([2] Wilde 111).

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It becomes a sort of guideline to follow, as he connects to the Parisian man as a representation of his future self. He believes that he is capable of what the Parisian has accomplished when the character “became to him a kind of prefiguring type of himself” ([2] Wilde 111). And thus, “the whole book [seems] to him to contain the story of his own life, written before he had lived it” ([2] Wilde 111).
The direct effects of the book are Dorian’s entire lifestyle, as he travels extensively, seeking the same kind of pleasures and experiences as the Parisian. Yet through this, his reputation is spoiled, and word trickles in of his misdeeds and corruption. The book leads him to act as a corrupting, devilish figure, and he brings them to the same kind of moral ruin that he experienced through Henry’s poisonous words. However, the effect of the book is such that instead of simply opening their eyes to the kind of world hedonism reveals, he actively ruins their lives.

The painting’s first change occurred when Dorian viciously rejected Sibyl Vane and caused her to commit suicide. A slight sneer formed at the corners of the painting’s mouth, representing his cruelty. As the years passed, the painting grew more and more grotesque, turning old and disgusting. The expression on the face of the painting becomes a horror to look at, and doesn’t at all reflect the pretty face of Dorian Gray on the surface. The changes happen because his soul is becoming dark and twisted as he mistreats his friends. He, according to Basil and the rumor mill, tarnished the name of Sir Henry Ashton, caused the death of Adrian Singleton, ruined the career of Lord Kent’s son, and ruined the life of the Duke of Perth. The worst change happening because Dorian secretly delights in the sharp contrast between his soul and his surface, being grotesque and beautiful, respectively.
The most drastic change of the painting occurred when Dorian murdered Basil in the chapter before. Now on the hand of Dorian’s portrait is glistening blood.

As the book progresses, Dorian Gray’s reputation in society goes from positive to negative. In early Chapter 11, the author describes that “those who had heard the most evil things about [Dorian]…could not believe anything to his dishonor when they saw him” (Wilde 93). Although there were several rumors that talked of Dorian’s engagement in dark deeds, his appearance, which radiated innocence, charm, and grace, disregarded all the skeptical comments about him (93). After all, one who looked as handsome and pure as Dorian Gray could not possibly commit any sin. As many years pass, however, people began to “look at him with cold searching eyes”, and those who were previously “intimate with him appeared…to shun him” (103, 104). It is apparent that the rumors that had been going around regarding Dorian’s private activities were catching up to him. According to Basil Hallward, people had been saying that Dorian “corrupt[s] every one with whom [he] becomes intimate”, like Sir Henry Ashton and Lady Gwendolen (111). Sir Henry Ashton had been exiled with a bad name and Lady Gwendolen, who was never previously known for a scandal, was looked down upon by society shortly after meeting Dorian, that “even her children [were] not allowed to live with her” (110, 111). Ashton and Gwendolen are only two of several examples that prove Dorian’s change from the good-natured boy to the wealthy man capable of evil manipulation.
In spite of his growing negative reputation, Dorian is able to uphold his high status in society as a result of his wealth and his youthful appearance. As Basil implies in Chapter 13, Dorian’s position as a wealthy aristocrat is one of the remaining threads that maintains his social status. Furthermore, Dorian’s “pure, bright, innocent face…and…untroubled youth” lead people to believe that he is not all corrupt (109). For these reasons, he is able to retain his high position in society despite the rumors in spite of him. In addition, his captivating beauty provides the fuel for his ability to manipulate people as he pleases.

He criticizes Dorian based on his hedonistic lifestyle and the way he has ruined other people. He proves his purpose as the moral compass of the book as he clearly states, “‘Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face’” ([2] Wilde 130). His beliefs are aligned with the fact that immorality is directly connected to beauty; one cannot be beautiful if one is evil. So for him, Dorian commits the ultimate evil, as he has condemned his ugliness into a portrait created by none other than Basil.
Basil criticizes Dorian by stating clearly his dangerous effects on other young men and women, and how he has lead to their ruin. Even as Dorian, the man Basil had once adored, shifts uncomfortably and tells him to stop, he proclaims, ‘“I must speak and you must listen. You shall listen’” ([2] Wilde 131). In a way, Basil may be mourning his own loss of Dorian to Lord Henry, who is the very man that Dorian now resembles in his corruption. Because of this, the criticism seems even more impactful, which ultimately leads to his fate.
Basil’s initial opinion of Dorian’s life is one of disappointment as well as doubt he is sorely disappointed in how the man he had once idolized has become the embodiment against purity and innocence for other people. He states, ‘“I hear [the insults upon Dorian] now, and I shudder,’” ([2] Wilde 132). It is depicted clearly that he is disappointed in the slander as much as Dorian himself. Yet he remains doubtful of Dorian’s life, in that he cannot bring himself to believe that Dorian has committed such heinous acts. He states, “‘They say you corrupt everyone...I don’t know whether it is so or not,”’ ([2] Wilde 132). His idolization of Gray is still a remnant in his personality; he cannot bring himself to see past Dorian’s beauty until he is literally viewing the portrait itself.
Eventually, as he brings himself to understand clearly how far gone Dorian’s morality is, it is with an opinion of great grief and terror. He turns to religion in these moments, as he pleads, ‘“Let us kneel down and try if we cannot remember a prayer,”’ ([2] Wilde 137). He has finally understood how evil a man can become, thus turning to the one thing that contradicts all of Lord Henry’s and Dorian’s hedonistic philosophies. As the moral embodiment in the novel, Basil is intensely terrified of the man whom he once thought a pure god.
Dorian reacts to Basil’s chastisement with a deep inner sickening of his own self, as he tells Basil, “‘Each of us has a Heaven and Hell in him,”’ ([2] Wilde 136). Yet, true to his corrupted self, Dorian cannot maintain a sense of morality, and he gives into hatred as he begins to blame everything on Basil, his idolization, and his portrait. The hatred grows madly passionate, and in the heart of that sense loathing, Dorian grabs a knife and kills his friend. It is a gruesome death that is unnecessarily cruel. And thus, Dorian has effectively killed off the only sense of moral compass within the novel, and foreshadows simply by this act that there are even more heinous crimes in store to mark the portrait with even more ugliness.

The mood changes when Dorian is shocked that he could actually kill one of his best friends who was just concerned about him. The mood changes from one that focuses on beauty to one that has changed its focus on murder and consciousness. A change in mood in chapter 14 is when he begins to speak to Alan with a kind, soft-hearted, helpless and weak voice. When Alan refuses after rejecting Dorian several times, Dorian resorts to his last card. He blackmails his friend. The tone is terror because he only feels pity for Alan, who has to clean up the dead body. He has lost the ability to feel guilt.
In these chapters Wilde is uncovering the monster that had shown only half its face. The true, guiltless demon within Dorian has revealed its true self, and Dorian accepts it. Not even traumatized by his first murder, Dorian has accepted the life of a criminal. The reader can feel Dorian's twisting and desperation to get out, to be released from the clutches of his inescapable sins, but in these chapters, all of that is gone. There is no hope. Dorian is just another Henry. He lives for himself, and no one, not even an old childhood friend, one who he has wronged before, can feel mercy from Dorian's monstrosity. Dorian has already prepared the doom of his Alan in case he does not go along with Dorian's wishes. Either way Alan is forced into a path of despair, much like the others around Dorian, and Dorian has accepted this fact. People around him die, he is a murderer, he has become what Henry described as the “low lives,” and there is no redemption or even an ounce of hope.

Lord Henry Wotton is the hedonist of Oscar Wilde’s novel. He feels that youth, beauty, and self-satisfaction are the only concepts significant in life. In Chapter 3, Henry claims that he cannot stand suffering, rather “one should sympathize with the colour, the beauty, [and] the joy of life” (Wilde 29). Of these values, he says that “youth is the one thing worth having” (16). His statement emphasizes the great importance he places upon beauty. Henry believes that good looks can work to one’s advantage, especially in the use of manipulation. These beliefs are expressed early in the novel when Lord Henry and Dorian meet for the first time. Due to the fact that Dorian was younger during these chapters, he was tractable and easily responsive to Henry’s poisonous influence. As a result, it has made the man that Dorian is today: one who sins, one who manipulates, and one who corrupts.
On the other hand, Basil Hallward is often considered the moralist of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Unlike Lord Henry Wotton, Basil places a great priority on purity and goodness rather than beauty and youth. The two’s different views reveal that Henry and Basil are foils of one another. Upon learning of Dorian’s decaying conscience through the portrait, Basil attempts to change Henry’s strong influence on Dorian, saying that he has “a wonderful influence” that should be used “for good, not for evil” (111). This provides a contrast to Henry’s hedonistic ideal to seek pleasure and tempting desire. In addition, it is revealed in Chapter 13 that Basil is a religious man, believing that prayers to God will somehow alleviate the sins both Dorian and Basil have committed through the years (115). Although the lessons that Basil tries to convey to Dorian are out of kindness and true concern, Henry’s influence is rooted far too deep in Dorian’s mind. Therefore, Basil’s attempt to reverse this influence only agitates Dorian further, and thus causing Basil’s murder by Dorian’s hands.

This comment is supported through each of the main characters in the book, Lord Henry, Dorian, and Basil. Lord Henry possesses both sides of the spectrum by his great powers of influence, but he misuses it to manipulate others into following his twisted ideals. Basil is a gifted painter and a loyal friend, but he has an obsession with Dorian and his youthful beauty. Dorian himself fits the phrase exactly. His face and surface present youthful innocence, the heavenly side of his being. His soul and insides, however, are disgusting and loathsome, hellish in nature.

Lord Henry says multiple times through the book that the secret to youth is living in sin, or that to become young again, one must repeat one’s follies. Henry philosophizes that having “unbecoming” emotions such as anger or sadness adds lines to the face and takes a toll on the mind, decreasing its lasting beauty. As Dorian progresses through life, the painting bears the effects of becoming old and wrinkled from the stress brought on from his actions and the actions of the people around him, his “friends.”

Works Cited

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Dover Publications, 1993. Print.
[2] Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ann Arbor: J.W. Edwards Inc., 2009. Print.

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