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The portrait in the book was originally painted by Basil Hallward who
believed it was the greatest thing he had ever done. Everyone admired
the painting and it wins him the respect of all his friends. Another
significance of the portrait to Basil Hallward is that it poignantly
turned out to be the cause of his own death when Dorian madly murders
him, as he was the man who painted the portrait that went so wrong.
"The mad passions of a wild animal stirred within himâ€¦" (Dorian Gray)
This shows how angry and disturbed Dorian had become. The portrait was
also a physical representation of Basil's fascination with Dorian and
how much he admired him that the painting he did was thought to be the
best he had ever done.
This leads to the significance of the portrait and Dorian. When Dorian
first met Lord Henry, he had no idea of how good-looking he was. Lord
Henry alerted him to the power of his appearance. This lead to Dorian
becoming narcissistic and obsessive, he looked upon the painting with
genuine fascination. Dorian believed that it too was the loveliest
portrait he had seen.
Wilde uses Dorian's obsession with the painting to implicitly condemn
aestheticism. However, this is contradicting what he said in his
preface and how he portrays Lord Henry, which is a representation of
himself. Lord Henry believes that art is completely distinct from
morality. Lord Henry like Wilde is an aesthete. So, when he says that
the way Dorian is obsessed with the painting, he is being hypocritical
as he to thinks that beauty is the ultimate pursuit in life. In the
preface of the book Wilde says that,
"Beautiful things mean only beauty."
Wilde is also ironic when he says that
"There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book."
He is being ironic because after the preface is a book, which is very
immoral as it is full of aesthetic beliefs.
Basil Hallward adheres to the conventional belief that looking at
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not an aesthete but he believes that looking beautiful is a good thing
but not the most important thing.
The portrait enables Wilde to explore the relationship between art and
philosophy and so he uses the portrait as a source for philosophical
When Dorian first saw the painting, he made an awful, impetuous prayer
that the portrait would show his age and sins while his face stayed
the same being young and youthful. By this prayer coming true it means
that the book has a real story for us to read, and the magic realism
involved makes it very exciting. Wilde's use of the magic realism is
very good; it is almost exciting that we know about Dorian's secret.
At the end of the book, the eventual state if the portrait is a
powerful indictment upon Dorian's moral deterioration. The painting
shows Dorian's true colours. He is a blackmailer, a drug addict and a
murderer who hurts everyone around him and who knows him. If the
portrait hadn't been there, we wouldn't have known how corrupted
Dorian's soul was.
From this book, it makes you wonder if everyone you know is just
covering up their real self and the painting gives you a real insight
as to who people could be. So, for example, a murderer could be
anybody, you might not be able to see it on their faces but inside
their soul is terribly corrupted. From reading this book and
especially about the portrait, I have seen how corrupted you soul can
become by doing just one wrong thing. The idea in the portrait has
made me want to be more careful about the things I am doing. It shows
that the soul is utterly unforgiving. For example, immediately after
Dorian killed Basil Hallward there was a red stain on the portrait's
hands. The portrait in the book shows Dorian's absolute corruption. In
the last paragraph of the book when Dorian kills himself, the painting
is restored to what it first looked like and Dorian changes into
looking like what the painting did. He is described as
"Withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage."
This is how you would expect a real bad man to look like and so the
portrait has a real significance in this book especially to Dorian
Gray as his true soul is just covered up by his face and it really
makes you think about what is underneath everyone's face and if their
faces are only a veneer covering up something horrible.