In curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his

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 reoccurring
themes such as beauty, self-absorbance, and human evil. These elements are clearly
depicted in the protagonist of the novel: Dorian Gray.

In
the beginning of the novel, we find out that Basil, an artist employed by Lord
Henry, painted a portrait of Dorian Gray that captured beauty and youthfulness that
Lord Henry admires. In the portrait there was a man who looked innocent and
that was how Dorian’s character began. Dorian didn’t place a value on his
appearance. On the other hand, people like Basil put a value on Dorian’s physical
beauty with high praise. “Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his
finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was
something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candour of youth
was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity” said Basil to Lord Henry
when describing Dorian (Wilde, pg. 26).

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            Lord
Henry then asks Basil to invite Dorian over even though Basil has reserves
about the two meeting due to Lord Henry’s perceived negative influence on
others. Lord Henry is an intellectual man that states virtues and imposes
certain beliefs onto those around him, not thinking about the effect his words
have on others. An example would be when Lord Henry says “I like persons better than principles, and I like persons
with 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 and
testing his principles with real people. As the narrator gives these qualities of
intellectual power and persuasion to Lord Henry, the tone of the dialogue
sounds as if Lord Henry is deeply admired, yet the narrator also has a
ton 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 his
understanding of the soul never includes the beliefs that Dorian eventually
acquires from him.

Additionally,
Lord Henry advocates a return to the “Hellenic ideal” in ancient Greece where
the appreciation of beauty meant everything. Lord Henry believes that in his
current time, people live by a morality that includes self-denial. This statement
goes against the Victorian morality and dismisses the idea of sin as a part of
the imagination.

Thus, as
the novel progressed, Dorian is seen to live a fraud life that imitates Lord
Henry’s life where Dorian claims to value beauty
and youth above all else. “I know, now, that when one loses one’s good looks, whatever they
may be, one loses everything. Your picture has taught me that. Lord Henry
Wotton is perfectly right. Youth is the only thing worth having. When I find
that I am growing old, I shall kill myself” says Dorian (Wilde. Pg.39). A statement like this suggests what
Dorian might do in the future when he realizes he’s aging. This statement also
depicts how self absorbed Dorian’s character has become to the point in which
he lives just to embrace his current youth and nothing more. When Dorian
realizes that he will keep his youthful appearance regardless of whatever
immoral actions he indulges in, he considers himself free from moral
constraints that ordinary people might have. He devotes himself to having as many experiences as possible disregarding
the consequences. Dorian also values his
physical appearance more than the state of his soul, which is illustrated in
the degrading portrait. As Dorian got closer with Lord Henry, Dorian’s
character began to change and well as his image in the portrait. The reader
might interpret this as, because it was Dorian’s character that was painted and
not his physical self, the portrait can change all it wants. As Dorian ignored
his morals the painting turns into a more hideous, distorted representation of
Dorian’s soul.

The beginning of
this change was when Dorian got engaged to Sybil Vane, a beautiful, talented
young actress. Dorian goes to see her perform every night and eventually asks
Lord 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! I
want to make Romeo jealous, I want the dead lovers of the world to hear our
laughter, and grow sad. I want a breath of our passion to stir their dust into
consciousness, to wake their ashes into pain. My God, Harry, how I worship
her!” (Wilde, pg.74) This desire is fulfilled and Dorian becomes
engaged to Sibyl and shows her off to his friends at one of her performances.

Meanwhile, Sibyl
realizes that she is in love and decides that she doesn’t need to act in front
of Dorian anymore. Due to this revelation, she performs horribly and disgusts
Dorian and his friends. After the show, Dorian confronts Sibyl with fury and
declares his love for her is anything but real. “You
have killed my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir
my 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 great
poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it
all away. You are shallow and stupid.” (Wilde, pg.115) Dorian’s statement
clearly shows the reader that he was never truly in love with Sibyl but rather
with the character that Sybil portrayed during her acts. Sybil soon
commits suicide due to Dorian’s harsh words and Dorian’s picture suddenly
changes. Almost everything has stayed the same in the portrait except for Dorian’s
smile which has changed from a once beautiful smile, to a cruel and corrupt
looking grin. From here on in the novel, the portrait changes in an
increasingly negative way making Dorian look almost monstrous.

Additionally,
through morbid imagery, the portrait finally represented Dorian in a full evil
form when Dorian kills one of his best friends, Basil. Basil follows Dorian
into 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 and
again.  There was a stifled groan, and the horrible sound on someone
choking with blood.  Three times the outstretched arms shot up
convulsively, waving grotesque stiff-fingered hands in the air.  He
stabbed him twice more, but the man did not move.  Something began to
trickle on the floor.  He waited for a moment, still pressing the
head down.  He could hear nothing, but the drip, drip on the
threadbare carpet” (Wilde, pg.204). The reader can tell that
Dorian has lost all morality and encompasses all evil that a human could posses
in this scene.

After
this incident, Dorian’s portrait has a look of slyness in his eyes, along with
blood stains on his hands. Wilde had incorporated features of both fantasy and realism
into his style of work in this novel through using the themes of morbidity and human
capacity for wickedness. The author understood the reality of human nature
and the darkness one could hold and illustrated those traits through Dorian. Soon,
the
tone of the novel becomes critical towards Dorian, showing that Dorian becomes
less and less compelling as he continues to get more paranoid and stuck in his
memory which seemed to eating his soul.

Thus, Dorian confronts Lord Henry about how
miserable his past twenty years were since he met Lord Henry. Dorian criticizes
the yellow book saying that the book inflicted him great harm and made him the vicious
person he is now. Dorian blames Lord Henry for giving him the book. “You poisoned me with a book once. I
should not forgive that. Harry, promise me that you will never lend that book
to anyone. It does harm” (Wilde, pg. 279), says Dorian to Lord Henry. Lord
Henry only states back “My dear boy, you are really beginning to moralize. You
will soon be going about like the converted, and the revivalist, warning people
against all the sins of which you have grown tired. You are much too delightful
to 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 is
superbly sterile. The books that the world calls immoral are books that show
the world its own shame” (Wilde, pg. 279). Lord Henry refuses to believe that a book could have such power. This
makes the reader think about whether or not it is Lord Henry’s fault for how
Dorian is like now or if it was Dorian’s fault to begin with. One might think
that because Lord Henry was the one who gave Dorian the book, knowing that
Dorian fully absorbs what Lord Henry imposes on him, is responsible. One might
also think it’s Dorian’s fault for wanting to read the book in the first place
and wanting to stick around Lord Henry and listen to Lord Henry’s philosophies.

Dorian’s fancy for
eternal 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’s
conscience and true self. In a sense, the portrait can be seen by the reader as
a mirror to Dorian’s soul. Dorian is separated between his perfect unchanging
physical form and the horrors of his degraded soul in the portrait. Dorian’s desire
of staying young was mentioned earlier on when Dorian first realized his beauty
in the portrait. “How sad it is! I shall
grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always
young. It will never be older than this particular day of June… If it were
only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture
that was to grow old! For that-for that-I would give everything! Yes, there is
nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for
that!” (Wilde, pg.39)

Oscar
Wilde paradoxically reintroduces morality through the use of guilt that Dorian finds
himself trying to escape by losing consciousness in drugs like opium. There’s a
paragraph which listed a bunch of materialistic items that Dorian becomes
interested in that symbolized beauty, such as “gorgeous cope of crimson silk
and gold thread damask, figured with repeating pattern of golden pomegranates
set in six-petalled formal blossoms…” and “chasubles, also, of amber colored
silk, 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 a
monotonous pace for the reader to follow. This passage described how Dorian, getting used to the privilege that
his portrait allows him, devotes himself to acquiring as many experiences as
possible. Dorian tries to find “the true nature of the senses” by studying rare
musical instruments, psychological effects of perfume, and the arts of jewelry
and embroidery, all through looking at historical figures that were wealthy and
by trying to emulate their lives.

Moreoever, Dorian begins to use his time to form more
affairs. As the reader, we learn from Basil’s meeting with Dorian that Dorian caused
the downfall of many children, all of whom that have been brought to shame and
even suicide by their associations with Dorian. These outcomes of the children
don’t bother Dorian. Instead, the outcomes are seen as experiences to Dorian. This
could be seen as Dorian’s attempt to move away from Lord Henry’s influence. Another
way of interpreting Dorian’s motives however is as if Dorian is a new Lord Henry
in which Dorian hints certain beliefs to the children and leads them on my manipulating
their curiosity.

In the end of the novel, Dorian ends up stabbing
the portrait of himself and dying along with the painting. It seems as if
because Dorian stabbed the portrait, he finally merged his soul and physical
character together. Dorian finally realized that he didn’t want to live this
miserable 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, his
materialistic possessions that he praised more than his morals. Dorian’s true
body was portrayed as more of an old and wrinkly body that Dorian ultimately
didn’t want to have. Dorian’s reality is now clear after he stabbed the
portrait of himself.

In conclusion, the
literary elements such as imagery, characterization, tone, and narration all
play a significant role in Dorian Gray’s character. The one significant image,
the portrait, is depicted and explained constantly throughout the novel. As the
reader, one can see that The Picture of Dorian Gray can
be read as a moralistic novel advising those of the risks that come with
valuing one’s appearance extravagantly and thus neglecting one’s conscience.
This was emphasized through the author’s usage of reoccurring themes of human
evil through Dorian’s actions and his downfall.