A Critique of the Ending of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray

A Critique of the Ending of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray

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A Critique of the Ending of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray


Truly, suspense is a positive attribute – up to a certain point. Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray ends with too many loose ends. What did Alan Campbell do to Dorian that was “stern, harsh, offensive”(Wilde 125)? It appears that whatever Campbell did was quite serious: when Dorian threatens to send a letter to someone regarding Campbell’s past misconduct, Campbell agrees to get rid of Basil’s corpse, which is a serious crime in itself. Why does Oscar Wilde not resolve this mystery? This case in isolation is not of too much consequence, but Wilde does not reveal what Dorian’s crimes are either. Certainly, there are hints of Dorian’s decadence, rumours that he “had been seen brawling with foreign sailors in a low den in the distant parts of Whitechapel, and that he consorted with thieves and coiners and knew the mysteries of their trade” (103). Nevertheless, details on Dorian’s crimes are vague. Past friends and acquaintances fall from their graces upon contact with Dorian; thus, to the townspeople, Dorian’s crime seems only to be the ability to spread misfortune and decadence like wildfire while maintaining his high social status.

It is blatant from the beginning of the novel that homoerotic energies permeate the story. Basil has always been intrigued, obsessed, and fascinated by the beautiful, perfect Dorian Gray. Nonetheless, Basil dies in Chapter XIII of The Picture of Dorian Gray – that is, he dies near the middle of the story. This death is premature, because the romantic relationship between Basil and Dorian is not explored even though it is apparent that just before he dies, Basil still feels love and tenderness towards his protégé Dorian. Although Dorian does not seem to have any romantic interest in Basil, he does need Basil as a guardian angel until the end of the story. Dorian is akin to Faustus in Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus,” for he naïvely lusts after knowledge and sells his soul to Mephistopheles – Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray – to obtain this knowledge. In “Doctor Faustus,” the good angel is a recurring figure that stays with Faustus until near Faustus’ death, forever urging the Doctor to repent. Basil, however, is a shadowy figure and is not able to give Dorian good advice until the end of the story.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray also attempts to explore the role of the artist. Without the artist Basil, Dorian can only discuss art with Lord Henry in the latter part of the novel. This is problematic because evil far outweighs good at this point in the story. There should be a better balance. Wilde writes at the beginning of the novel that “The artist is the creator of beautiful things”(vii), but in the end, the picture of Dorian Gray transforms into a monstrous entity with a life of its own. It is true that what Basil painted at first is beautiful, but it is only outwardly and deceptively so. Moreover, according to Wilde, “all art is quite useless”(viii). This is untrue throughout the novel; at the end of the novel, it is certainly clear that art is useful. Not only does it serve as a diary of Dorian’s sinful life, but it becomes an integral part of Dorian’s character. When the art dies, so too does the subject.

At the end of the story, there are still many people such as Lord Poole who do not know of Dorian Gray’s sinful reputation. This is puzzling indeed as Dorian does not live in a large city – everyone should know everyone else and no rumour can possibly be suppressed or hidden. Given Dorian’s bad reputation, it is also quite unbelievable that no one suspects Dorian of Alan or Basil’s deaths.

Wilde suggests that “there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all”(vii). Victorian literature, however, are often full of morals. A lesson must be conveyed, somehow. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, evil triumphs in the form of Lord Henry, the story’s Mephistopheles. Although Dorian does murder his evil doppelganger – in the form of the painting – evil prevails. There is a suggestion that good and innocent people such as Hetty will succumb to evil as well. It is also suggested that Lord Henry will continue to lend his “poisoned book” to other naïve victims. To remedy this, Lord Henry should not be allowed to live at the end of the story – yet lives he does.

Why does Jim Vane’s death arrive so suddenly? This is problematic because Dorian is able to easily escape his responsibilities. In fact, in the ending of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian never feels remorseful and remains unrepentant. Although his ideas of beauty and aestheticism may have changed for the better, he still does not believe in God or His grace. He does not ask for forgiveness from anyone and he does not learn that he cannot outwit Time despite his youthful appearance. Nothing is learned or gained in the ending of the story, for Dorian only stabs the malicious painting because he wants to shed his past. Shedding his past may be seen as a positive sign, but there is evidence that even if he is successful in doing so, Dorian will return to his naïve self and make the same mistakes over again because he is remorseless: he does not have any true human feelings and does not cry for his friends’ deaths.

Work Cited

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993.
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