“The Picture of Dorian Gray”: meaning and analysis of the book by Oscar Wilde

“The Picture of Dorian Gray”: meaning and analysis of the book by Oscar Wilde Literature

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a moralizing work of the 19th century with a fantastic bias, an amazing story about the absorption of the human soul by the canvas and displaying all the changes in the owner. This novel will seem interesting to every person who seeks to maintain his own attractiveness. But the intention of Oscar Wilde was not at all the desire to share the secret of immortality, he only outlined in the novel a personal view of the moral aspirations of people, their needs for pleasure.

What is The Picture of Dorian Gray about?

The work is ambiguous and philosophical. Dorian’s personality changes due to the statements of Lord Henry, taken literally by the young character. The young man intends to realize everything described by the lord. He sympathizes with his friend, not realizing that sometimes he is simply being ironic.

Once Dorian is seriously interested in the bright and beautiful actress Sybil. She is young, charming and trusting, and captivates the young man with her sincerity. A passionate romance ensues. But Gray abuses the feelings of the chosen one, She commits suicide. The young man mourns his beloved, but Lord Henry consoles Gray, and Dorian stops grieving.

The young man rushes into all serious, visits brothels, behaves cheekily. There are mixed rumors about him, shocking Gray’s acquaintances. Morality becomes alien to him, and the portrait of the character begins to change (since the death of Sybil).

The image is transformed, an evil grin, traces of opium abuse and debauchery are drawn on it.

Basil, the author of the portrait, visits Dorian one day to talk to him and help him. Basil cannot believe his eyes. Once a pure and kind young man, remembered by the portrait painter only from the positive side, he became evil and dangerous. Dorian shows the canvas to the portrait painter and accuses him of his own vices. Dorian then kills Basil and disposes of the corpse.

The main character becomes paranoid, he is afraid of everything, slowly losing his mind. He realizes that he is bored with vice. He seeks to do a good deed that would be reflected on the canvas, return his soul. But Gray doesn’t work. After all, he does everything now not from sincere motives, but only because of vanity.

Angry at himself and grumbling at the fate of the villain, Dorian decides to destroy the portrait, seeing in it the cause of all his lewdness and bad life.

The Meaning of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Wilde’s novel is as multifaceted as the creative embodiment of his idea is many-sided. The meaning of the work “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is to show us the superiority of the inner content of the human personality over the outer. Whatever the beauty of the face, the beautiful impulses of the soul cannot be replaced by it. The ugliness of thought and heart still mortifies the flesh, makes the beauty of forms lifeless and artificial. Even eternal youth will not bring happiness to ugliness.

The author also proves to the reader that art is eternal. The Creator paid for his love and devotion to ideals, but his creation is alive and beautiful. The portrait shows a charming young man in the prime of his charming youth and beauty. And the man who has devoted himself to the cult of pleasure, in love only with himself and his desires, is dead. His appearance is alive in the picture, alive in art, and the only way to save a moment for centuries is to depict it in all its glory.

The preface to the novel consists of 25 aphorisms that proclaim the author’s aesthetic ideals. Here are some of them: “The artist is the creator of the beautiful”, “To reveal oneself and hide the creator – this is what art craves”, “The chosen ones are those for whom beauty means only one thing – Beauty.” “Vices and virtues for the creator are the material of art.” “The ethical preferences of the creator lead to mannerisms of style.” Although Oscar Wilde was a supporter of the theory of aestheticism, the work clearly outlines the danger of separating ethical and aesthetic principles. Service leads to death, as happened to the hero of the novel. In order to feel and enjoy beauty, and at the same time preserve your face and virtue, you must always observe the norms of morality and not bring yourself to fanaticism, even if there is eternal life in reserve.


Of course, the most important moral law of being is not to elevate the visible to the status of the only significant. If a person is beautiful, this does not mean that his soul corresponds to the shell. On the contrary, many handsome people are selfish and foolish, but society continues to value them more than people gifted with genuine virtues. This erroneous worship leads to absurd cults of heartless and empty mannequins, and truly beautiful individuals remain misunderstood. Carnival falsehood, hypocritical adherence to decency and generally accepted attitudes were the immutable law of the Victorian era, in which the smart, courageous and original writer Oscar Wilde did not get along.

The worship of love ruined Sibyl Vane, love for beauty and admiration for it as an art, led the artist Hallward to the house where he found his death. The protagonist, who plunged into the vicious world of pleasure, fell by his own hand. The moral of The Picture of Dorian Gray is that any absolute worship is dangerous. You can love, create, enjoy, but at the same time leave room for a sober reflection on your actions. The characters are prone to impulsiveness, this is their misfortune: Sybil commits suicide after a breakup, Dorian, with triumphant anger, throws himself at the picture with a knife. And they all became victims of their ideals – such is the price of blindness. Within reasonable limits, cynicism helps people not to make such mistakes, which is what the author teaches when portraying Lord Henry.


The novel reveals the problem of “beautiful” and “ugly”. These two extremes are necessary for understanding the wholeness of this world. The tragic and pure love of the actress Sybil, Basil’s sincere affection for the young man and, of course, the protagonist himself, as the embodiment of true earthly beauty, belong to the “beautiful”. “The ugly” is carried in his soul, with every vice and crime it smolders, rots, losing sensitivity and the ability to compassion. And all these metamorphoses are taken over by the mysterious canvas, turning the person depicted on it into an ugly vicious creature. But society is blind to the fine lines between beauty and ugliness, it fixes only the external attributes of the individual, completely forgetting about the internal ones. Everyone knows about Dorian’s tricks, but this does not stop him from loving and respecting him. Some people are only cowardly afraid of losing their ostentatious virtue, so they do not accept it officially. In these circumstances, along with the promiscuity of people, there is their hypocrisy and cowardice – problems no less important.

The portrait of Dorian Gray is a reflection of his soul and conscience. It does not manage the life of its owner in any way, does not punish him, but only silently reflects all the baseness and immorality of the young man. Virtue is outraged, real feelings have given way to hypocrisy. The handsome man succumbed to temptation, and only his image will show the retribution for this temptation. There is a problem of impunity for a person from high society: he leads not only an immoral, but also an illegal lifestyle, and no one stops him. Of course, he is from the nobility, which means that he has the right not to reckon with the law until his behavior becomes public knowledge. Only then will everyone pretend that they are shocked by the news, but they did not suspect anything of the kind before. Thus, the author touches on social and political issues, criticizing Victorian England for


The theme of art was the most interesting for the writer. He talked about him in the dialogues of the main characters, he dedicated the finale of the novel to him, where the man died, and his portrait remained an eternal memory of him. The invisible power of the picture is an indicator that the most significant thing created by people is art, it overshadows and outlives its creator, perpetuating his name and skill. It also makes it truly attractive. Dorian admired the creative genius of Basil, the extraordinary talent of Sybil, the oratorical power of Henry. His uncorrupted soul was drawn to the light of the creative principle, and turned away from it, taking licentiousness and meanness for life guidelines.

In addition, the theme of the work can be called a dramatic clash of the ideas of hedonism (ethical doctrine, where pleasure is the highest good and the goal of life) and aestheticism (a movement in European literature and art, which was based on the predominance of aesthetic values ​​- the worship of art, graceful). Basil Hallward was in love with beauty, art and beauty were inseparable for him. Art is beauty. He sought to immortalize her features with a brush and exceptional talent. But the worship of the beautiful ruined the artist, his love and devotion to beauty were trampled on by the madness of a depraved soul. The hero chose the path of pleasure, in the center of which was himself. He reveled in his impunity and moral decline, because no one can deprive him of wealth – eternal youth. Such a way of life does not lead to true happiness, but only creates its illusion. Dorian at the end begins to regret the lost innocence, the former purity of his soul, but it is too late; sincere feelings, compassion, true love forever lost their meaning for him.

Criticism“The Picture of Dorian Gray”: meaning and analysis of the book by Oscar Wilde

The writer’s contemporaries vehemently took up arms against “Dorian Gray” for ridiculing the prim Puritan society of that period. In addition, Wilde vividly described the immoral behavior of the protagonist, which was indecent to see even on the pages of the book. In the secret adventures of the secular lion, especially virtuous readers saw propaganda of a hedonistic position and vicious leisure. The enlightened and demanding public did not notice the gracefully hidden condemnation, because no one canceled the competition in ostentatious piety.

For desecration of morality, the writer was even convicted, and for a real prison term. Although his defense speech made a splash among sane people, it failed to convince everyone else. However, later this work was appreciated, and today it is one of the most significant not only in English, but also in world literature.

Analysis of the book “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” is usually referred to as an intellectual genre of the novel. In this work, the characters and the author constantly analyze and comprehend their own actions and those around them. Their dialogues and monologues are philosophical. The “Portrait …” deals with the most important aesthetic, moral and “eternal” problems.

From the pen of Oscar Wilde came out a provocative work that depicted the cream of English society in a very unsightly light. Hypocrisy, hypocrisy and depravity in this work appear as an integral part of aristocratic life, when only external decorum is observed.

The style and time of the creation of the novel are attributed to the Victorian era. English prose during the reign of Queen Victoria was calm, puritanical and hypocritical (as can be clearly seen from the lines of Lord Henry).

The novel can also be called an “allegorical parable”. The unfolding book events should not be taken at face value. The characters only reflect conceptual views, mystical images (vice, skill, love, death), trials, copper pipes (revealing the unpleasant features of human nature).

On the pages of the novel, Wilde discusses options for dealing with vices: whether a person should run away from vicious practices or turn everything to his own advantage. In any case, it is impossible to minimize the meanness prevailing in society, and this pattern is shown on the example of Gray’s life. The meaning of Wilde’s literary work, as it were, refers the reader to a trivial plot about a deal with the devil, prompting the idea of ​​further retribution with one’s own soul.

History of the book “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

Oscar Wilde once bet with his friend that he would publish his own work of art, which would “put on the ears” of the whole of London. Created “Dorian Gray” was in record time, at the peak of the author’s creative impulse. Wilde won the argument, but the victory turned out to be bitter: he was put on trial (for corrupting English morals). Most readers from the upper strata saw insults in their address on the pages. As a result, the writer received a prison term.

The novel was based on real events. The writer really had a friend Basil, who was considered a gifted portrait painter. Once in his workshop, Wilde spotted an attractive young man. The beautiful appearance of the sitter fascinated and delighted him, but Wilde, not without bitterness, noted that this beauty would fade with time. The portrait painter was ready to depict this handsome man on the canvas at least every year, so that his decrepitude and loss of attractiveness would be displayed only in the picture.

“Portrait …” became the only printed novel that scandalously glorified the writer. It was first published in July 1890 (in the American Lippincott Monthly). Then, in 1891, the novel was republished, it included six new chapters with a special preface of aesthetic content.

The meaning of the title of the book “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

It forces readers of the novel to think about the key moment around which everything happens. The portrait is truly extraordinary, it helps the main character not to fade, always to be attractive and fresh.

Dorian is young, trusting and respectable. It is attractive both externally and internally. Once he meets with Lord Henry, but the young man does not benefit from the acquaintance. The Lord is erudite, arouses interest, but prefers to voice shocking hypotheses. Dorian absorbs everything like a sponge, everything that is said is perceived as the truth.

Problems of the book “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

The hedonist writer paints a picture of the decay and disintegration of English society. This path was chosen by Lord Henry, and Dorian Gray, and hundreds of other representatives of the younger generation. The writer mentions that because of the vice of a person, collapse always awaits. Only some special people (such as Lord Henry) can resist excesses and avoid their death.

Using the example of Basil, Oscar Wilde depicts the fate of the artist and how great the power of art is, how it awakens feelings in individuals and shows things in their true light. But the portrait painter is unhappy, because the responsibility of the creator often strains, becomes too great, it only brings disappointment and suffering.

Despair becomes a non-random result for the hero. Stepping on the path of pathos and vice, Dorian Gray eventually despaired and felt lonely. It robbed him of his mind and ruined him.

The book also deals with the hypocrisy of bigotry. On display, English society behaves virtuously, but behind a righteous mask it only hides its impartial nature. So, many acquaintances of Lord Henry first pray in the temple, and then try to join some atheist.

What does The Picture of Dorian Gray teach?

The work inclines to thinking about whether a person can turn to someone later if he becomes a vicious villain. The “Portrait…” contains the author’s judgments about the need for self-control and restraint, and most importantly, about honesty with oneself. The moral of the book is the importance of accepting your original nature and not striving to live by double standards.

The novel emphasizes the importance of true art, but also talks about the danger of chasing ghostly beauty all your life, regardless of the environment.

Explanation of the ending of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Dorian realizes that he ruined the lives of many people and lost his own soul. Having received eternal youth, he destroyed himself. Deciding that he did a good job with one innocent girl, he tried to check it out. But the art canvas did not get better. The character realizes that he did so out of vanity. His thoughts are confused, he does not want to show the canvas to anyone. He sees that it is easier to destroy the picture and forget about the past. Dorian pierces the portrait with a knife. The servants hear a scream, enter the room and see a decrepit old man on the floor with a knife in his hand, and on the wall a portrait depicting a beautiful young man.


The Picture of Dorian Gray can be classified as an intellectual novel. In the work, the characters and the narrator are subject to introspection, comprehension of their actions and environment. Their conversations go beyond the plot, representing a debate of certain philosophical views. The book raises the most important aesthetic, moral and “eternal” problems.

According to the time of creation and style, the work can be attributed to the Victorian novel. So they called the English prose of the period of the reign of Queen Victoria – an era of calm, puritanism and hypocrisy. Its author gracefully ridicules Lord Henry in his remarks.

The definition of “allegorical parable” is also applicable to the book. The events taking place in it should not be taken literally. Heroes are not people, they denote philosophical views, magical pictures – vicious temptation, death and love – trials, copper pipes that open the veil over human nature.

The direction of the author’s creative thought is at the junction between romantic, fantastic and realistic beginnings. Thus, the book reveals an element of fantasy (the magical power of a portrait), the psychological and social components of realism, and the romantic type of the protagonist.

Main characters

  1. Dorian Gray is a naive and beautiful young man who turned into a depraved and insensitive egoist under the influence of Lord Henry. He is a nobleman, a descendant of a noble family. His soul was eagerly looking for a mentor in a new secular world for him. Having chosen a sophisticated and vicious role model, the hero, being weak-willed and driven, hurries to try out all the cynical advice of his older comrade. From the very beginning it is clear that he is a sensual but cowardly egoist, because the thought of losing his own beauty (the only difference from other men in his circle) enslaves his mind, which has not yet had time to develop. He easily betrays love for other people, this speaks of the pettiness of his nature and the stinginess of his heart. Using his example, the author draws a parallel between internal and external wealth, which are not at all identical to each other. The writer has already embodied the image of Dorian Gray in the fairy tale “Star Boy”. Wilde turns that hero into a freak, making it impossible to hide the disgrace. Therefore, he quickly transforms into a good and highly moral young man who is aware of his guilt. However, the novel is not a fairy tale, in it the creator truthfully told about what awaits the arrogant and self-obsessed character.
  2. Lord Henry is a wealthy and refined nobleman, well received in high society. His sarcastic remarks and casuistic worldview (he professes hedonism) are liked by people around him who enjoy his wit. Every second of his quotes is an aphorism. However, he himself never follows his bold thought. He advises, cunningly, gradually corrupts the soul of Dorian, but he does nothing of the sort. His image is traditionally compared with the archetype of the devil in literature. Wotton is like Mephistopheles from Goethe’s Faust: he only guides a person, skillfully shuffling hedonistic ideas, subtle humor and arrogant cynicism. The spirit of depravity emanating from this hero is attractive. He has refinement and loftiness, but this is only external beauty, which, like the beauty of the face, is only a fragile veil of a rotten sinful essence.
  3. Sybil Vane – Dorian’s lover, actress. The girl of rare beauty was also very talented. With her talent, she struck Gray. He fell in love with her for him, because the artist could never get bored: she reincarnated into other images every day. The real Sybil was ready to sacrifice her career, success, creativity itself for the sake of love, and, sensing this, the young man quickly became fed up with adoration. He liked the stage, far-fetched lady of the heart, as free and incomprehensible as himself. But the young woman was just kind, dreamy, naive and vulnerable. Therefore, the first disappointment in people made her commit suicide. Neither her mother nor her brother were able to dissuade her in time of bright hopes.
  4. Basil Hallward is a painter, a friend of Dorian and Lord Henry, who introduces them. It was he who painted the fatal portrait. The artist sincerely admired the sitter and his beauty, and it was he who sensitively perceived the changes that had taken place in the young man. He saw the nascent viciousness in him and sounded the alarm, but Gray only moved away from him in response. Basil was a humanist and moralist, his moral principles contrast with Henry’s refined immorality, and therefore annoy the protagonist. Hallward appreciates solitude, likes to reflect and philosophize, and is the bearer of the author’s point of view in the novel. His sitter blames him for his fall, and then kills him, wanting to break the spell. He is unaware that the friend has been desperately trying to prevent his corruption all this time.
  5. James Vane is Sybil’s brother, a sailor. A sane and strong-willed young man. He is skeptical from the start about the wealthy nobleman’s intentions regarding his sister. The man is used to relying on himself in everything, and not looking for easy ways up, so he warns his mother against excessive trust in a stranger from the nobility. He is a typical representative of the Victorian era, his social prejudices are unshakable. When Wayne learns about the death of his deceived sister, a desperate desire to take revenge on the heartless rich man wakes up in his heart. Since then, the sailor, firm in his convictions and purposeful, has been chasing the offender, but meets his death before he manages to present it to Gray.

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