Summary: “Celebrated novel traces the moral degeneration of a handsome young Londoner from an innocent fop into a cruel and reckless pursuer of pleasure and, ultimately, a murderer. As Dorian Gray sinks into depravity, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait reflects the ravages of crime and sensuality.” ~from Amazon.com
I’d originally read The Picture of Dorian Gray for an AP English class in high school, and I remember thinking that it was one of the most amazing things ever written. Now that I’ve read it again, I can honestly say that I still hold to that sentiment. The Picture of Dorian Gray isn’t one of those books that you can read solely for plot. A lot of it has to do with subtext and the deeper meanings behind the conversations between the characters.
A central focus in the novel is the idea of “youth” and “soul”. Normally, in a coming of age story, we see the protagonist go through trials to grow and become a better person. However, in this novel, it seems to be almost the opposite of what we normally see. We see the “protagonist” or we actually see him as more of a villain in my opinion, trying to cling to his youth. He’s afraid of how much damage reality could actually do to him. He embraces vanity at the cost of his soul. I found it interesting that we get a character who actively embraces things he knows that corrupts him; and one of the driving force in his descent into corruption is the fact that it seemingly has no consequences for him. He doesn’t age, the corruption doesn’t have a physical manifestation, and his connections keep him out of jail/suspicion.
I think the one point that triggers Dorian Gray’s change was his quick affair with Sybil Vane. His “love” was still a tie to his innocence and his belief in true love. However, we soon learn that he was actually in love with the character she portrays – in the literal sense (Sybil was an actress). And once she couldn’t portray that character anymore – apparently, love makes you unable to act – Dorian realizes that he doesn’t want her anymore. It’s the loss of “love” makes Dorian question reality. In that sense, I believe that his loss of the Sybil he loved made it easier for him to let go of attachments and indulge himself in what he wanted.
The ending was sufficient enough for me. I believe that Dorian’s death was caused, not by his guilt at what he had done, but how he looked in the painting. It was what he feared most – getting old and ugly – and he couldn’t take looking at it anymore.