A Student Response to Dorian Gray

Thoughts on Dorian Gray and the Portrait

In my previous and current reading of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the character of Dorian Gray has always fascinated me. Oscar Wilde presents Dorian as an ambiguous character who cannot be classified as black or white, Dorian in my belief falls in a shaded grey area. There is Basil’s version of Dorian- the pure, uncorrupted young lad, the portrait of Dorian which reflects the grotesqueness of his soul and actions  and the hedonistic  Dorian who is corrupted and influenced by Lord Henry. Dorian seems to be a nearly perfect archetype; he is young, beautiful, pure, and uncorrupted as well as innocent. His beauty and charm enthrall those who have had the pleasure of his company, particularly Basil and Lord Henry.

Dorian’s portrait is one of the most compelling aspects of the novel. Prior to receiving the painting, Dorian is neither vain nor fixated on beauty  in fact he recognizes his own beauty only after viewing the painting and meeting Lord Henry and perhaps that can be seen as the starting point for Dorian’s downwards spiral. Upon seeing the completed portrait Dorian feels “He had recognized himself for the first time […] the sense of his own beauty came on him like a revelation.” Dorian had no value for his own beauty, after the portraits completion Dorian is reminiscent of a blind man seeing himself for the first time. Before long Dorian’s attitude towards the painting changes drastically, the thought of himself aging and the portrait forever remaining as youthful as the moment it was finished strikes him with ” A sharp pang of pain struck through him like a knife, and made each delicate fibre of his nature quiver” (65).  Dorian determines his beauty and youth as his only worthwhile attributes, he fails to recognize his purity and innocence as his best characteristics. Contrary to the belief that many including myself have of true beauty being what is inside rather than  outside appearances, for Dorian it is the exact opposite- as long as his youth and beauty remain, what is under the surface is not a priority nor of very much importance. Dorian’s fear and insecurity at the thought of growing old and aesthetically unappealing is worth the ultimate price he pays- his very soul.

Dorian portrait is also reminiscent of a mirror that reflects the worst of Dorian Gray. The painting suffers the consequences of Dorian’s actions and immoral acts and in a sense takes the blame for Dorian. The atrocities Dorian commits are reflected in the portrait not on the guilty man himself. The portrait displays the ugliness and depravity of Dorian’s soul and mind.  He later laments his foolish decision “he had prayed that the portrait should bear the burden of his days, and he keep the unsullied splendor of eternal youth! All his failure had been due to that” (247). Rather than bear the punishment of his actions and accept wrinkles and ageing as a part of life all humans experience, Dorian chooses to remain young and physically unchanged while the portraits image changes as a result of Dorian’s actions. Dorian seems to have gained the best of both worlds; he retains his youth and beauty, and attains a vessel to take the unwanted facets of himself; his mortality and eventual deterioration as he matures and grows older.

Despite retaining his youth and beauty, Dorian is aware of his corrupt nature and immorality. He experiences guilt and is racked with remorse after committing his most atrocious crime, murdering his friend Basil Hallward. His guilty conscience led to the destruction of the portrait and Dorian’s demise at his own hands. Preceding his death Dorian develops a hatred for his beauty ” he loathed his own beauty […] It was his beauty that had ruined him, his beauty and youth that he had prayed for. But for those two things, his life might have been free from stain” (248). Despite having had opportunities to repent his sins, Dorian believes he is beyond redemption and makes no effort to salvage his corrupted soul.  Despite the innocent looks Dorian possesses, he is never able to recover the innocence he once had and ironically dies a “withered, wrinkled and loathsome visage” (251) something he has always feared and tried to prevent, while the portrait reverts into its original youthful masterpiece. Dorian achieves what many people would wish to achieve, eternal beauty, youth and no consequences for his actions. But is the price worth the payment of his soul and morality and later his very life?

2 thoughts on “A Student Response to Dorian Gray

  1. Hey OP.

    I really like this overall. I’ve decided to write with a focus on the mirror for my final essay topic, and I appreciate that you went in an entirely different direction than I plan to. It gives me some good ideas on how to expand my essay outline!

    I do have one caveat though, and that’s your use of the “white is good and pure, black is bad and grotesque” metaphor. I’m not sure if this is something most people even notice in their writing, because it is a really common metaphor, but it comes off super Heart of Darkness (ie. the metaphor is highkey racist). The way you describe Dorian, “[…] as an ambiguous character who cannot be classified as black or white,” makes it seem like you’re literally describing a skin colour rather than figuratively describing a set of personality attributes. Other ways to describe Dorian’s “grey area” might be: chaotic neutral, reluctant monster, (just) morally ambiguous, etc.

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  2. yes i agree with you, Dorian’s obsession with his looks is the reason he makes is wish (even though it is not wholly his fault, lord Henry and basil help him to be on his path of excess) Dorian’s painting in the book could almost serve as a character in itself. also i have to admit that during the scene where he realizes how actually beautiful he is I almost feat sorry for Dorian, realizing his own mortality is one thing but using his painting as a scapegoat for his sins really made me hate Dorian. so naturally I enjoyed that the guilt of his actions finally catches up to him. I also wrote on Dorian for my final essay.

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