The Picture of Dorian Gray

-a dark and tragic tale of the evils of human nature-



Biography of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde's Writing Style

Themes in The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Basil Hallward, an artist, painted a portrait of Dorian Gray, a handsome gentleman who was kind, intelligent, and content in life.  When Dorian saw his portrait he was taken aback at its incredible beauty.  Lord Henry Wotton, a wealthy man with a poisonous tongue had seen the portrait as well and was fascinated with the man in the picture.  He met Dorian and flattered him and expressed his sadness at the thought that such youth should fade into the ugliness of age. Dorian lamented that the picture would mock him his entire life; age would indeed steal his color and grace. Then he wished instead that the picture would grow old while he remained young forever.

Dorian met and fell madly in love with Sibyl Vane, a beautiful and talented actress.  But the night Dorian invited Lord Henry and Basil Hallward to meet his new love, her performance was dreadful. She was hissed and booed by the audience. Afterward, she happily explained to the disappointed Dorian that her love for her "Prince Charming," - as she knew him - had transformed her from a mere actress into a “real woman”. Dorian shunned her.  He no longer loved her and vowed that he wouldn’t see her anymore.

When Dorian got home, he noticed that the face in his painting had changed. He looked crueler.  He realized that his wish that the painting would deal with suffering and guilt of his soul while his own face was left untarnished, had been granted!  But Dorian felt bad for the portrait and resolved to live a good life. He decided to marry Sybil and see no more of Lord Henry.  However, that next morning Lord Henry gave Dorian the news that Sybil had killed herself in the middle of the night.  Dorian forgot his good resolutions. If fate was cruel to him then he would give himself up to a life of pleasure and let the portrait bear the burden of his corrupting soul.

For years Dorian lived in cruel joy, his face never showing the hideousness of his actions.  He gained pleasure from comparing his own handsome face with the grisly one in his portrait.

Dorian was later visited by his old friend Basil Hallward who came in hopes of persuading Dorian to finally change his ways, hardly believing the rumors about the young man's evil deeds.  By this time, Dorian had become totally corrupt.  He was as vile and ugly as the man in the portrait.

That night Dorian invited the elderly Hallward up to the room to see his filthy soul, face-to-face. After seeing the grotesqueness of the painting that he had drawn, Basil immediately begged Dorian to pray and repent. Instead, Dorian grabbed a knife and thrust it again and again into Basil’s neck and back. Then he left the corpse in the room.  That night, red blood stained the hands of the image on the portrait.

One evening, as Dorian was leaving an opium den, a woman called him "Prince Charming." A sailor standing nearby turned out to be Sibyl Vane's brother, James. Overhearing this familiar nickname, James grabbed Dorian with the intent to kill him and avenge his sister's death. But Dorian's youthful exterior and smooth tongue saved him; when the crime had occurred Dorian could have been no more than a child. When James returned to the den however, the woman swore before God that Dorian was indeed the ruinous Prince Charming. He had destroyed her life too.  For months Dorian imagined himself being hunted - tracked down by a vengeful sailor. His mask of youth had saved his life, but not his conscience.

Then, during a hunt at Dorian's country home, an unknown man in sailor's garb was accidentally killed. Dorian rushed to where the body was taken and there discovered James Vane, dead.

Alone, and longing to be at peace with himself, Dorian contemplated his situation. Should he confess and make penitence for his evils? No, the only evidence against him was that horrid, hidden pictorial record of his debauchery.  He decided that he needed a new life.   Dorian hurried upstairs, seized the same knife he had used on poor Basil, and stabbed his picture. The servants heard a scream and found the portrait of their master, as fresh and beautiful as the day it was painted hanging on the wall. On the floor was a dead man, withered, wrinkled, and loathsome, with a knife in his heart.  It was Dorian Gray, who, in a struggle to kill his conscience, had killed himself.