In Oscar Wilde’s classic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, imagery affects the story as a whole. One image that can be traced throughout the entire novel, is the actual portrait of Dorian Gray. This portrait in itself can be divided into three separate stages, depending on the severity of Dorian’s cruelty. As the novel progresses, these images transform from one stage to another. This successful usage of imagery makes this novel truly terrifying, but at the same time, quite enjoyable.
The first significant stage of Dorian’s portrait might be called the beautiful stage. Basil Hallward paints Dorian’s portrait in the beginning pf the novel, and, it is said to be his best work yet. The picture not only illustrates Dorian’s true outer beauty, but it also accentuates on his stunning youthful image. The portrait is given to Dorian to keep for himself to remember how lovely he looked in his youthful days. Basil and Dorian alike adore the portrait, however they have no idea of what is in store them in the future.
The next stage of Dorian’s ever changing portrait is slightly changed from the fine-looking image of the novel’s beginning. Dorian falls in love with Sibyl Vane, a beautiful and extremely talented young actress, and goes to see her perform almost every night. He becomes engaged to her and, rightly so, decides to bring his friends along with him to show off his future bride at one of her performances. Sibyl, however, realizes that she is in love, and decides that she need not act to her full potential. In fact, she performs horribly and disgusts Dorian and his friends alike. After the show, Dorian becomes furious with Sibyl and declares his love for her null and void. Soon thereafter she commits suicide and Dorian’s picture suddenly changes. Almost everything is still intact except for his smile. It has changed from the once beautiful smile, to a cruel and evil looking grin. From here on, the portrait changes from day to day in an increasingly malicious way.
The third and final stage of the portrait represents Dorian in a full fledged evil form. While the picture has been changing all throughout the novel, it takes a dramatic change when he single-handedly kills one of his best friends. Basil follows Dorian into his house and wants to see his, as he remembered, beloved picture of Dorian. While looking at the portrait in amazement and confusion, Dorian lashes out upon him in a mad rage. He stabs Basil again and again in the head for reasons no one will ever know. After this incident, Dorian’s portrait changes even more. He realizes that there is a look of cunning in his eye, along with scarlet blood stains on his hands. In closing, Dorian’ picture reaches an all time level of wickedness, and, because of this, he attempts to destroy it for good, but ends up killing himself in return.
Finally, the imagery that Oscar Wilde uses so well in Dorian Gray affects the novel greatly in whole. As the portrait changes, so does the mood and the actions of the characters. At first, when the portrait is beautiful, everyone is happy, and it seems as though nothing could ever go wrong. As Dorian’s life of crime gradually begins to accelerate, however, things begin to change. The mood tends to shift from a joyful tone, to more of a ghastly and horrifying one. This is not fully shown until the novel shifts eighteen years into the future. Rumours are constantly being spread about Dorian and his disgraceful habits while weather is constantly dark and gloomy. Another peculiar fact is that not one person dies in the novel until Dorian’s behavior begins to change. When the portrait is in its opening stages, only Sibyl Vane dies. When the portrait is in its closing stages, however, Basil, James Vane, and Dorian himself all meet death themselves. In conclusion, Dorian’s portrait changes the whole mood of the novel, and has some effect on everyone in the novel, whether it be directly or indirectly.
In conclusion, imagery plays a significant role in Dorian Gray. The one significant image, the portrait, is seen constantly throughout the novel. As the image changes, so does everything else in the story. The picture not only affects the way the characters act, but it also affects the mood in return. In closing, Dorian Gray’s portrait coincides perfectly with the mood and actions of the characters, which range from perfection and harmony to evil and cruelty.
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Below you will find three outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “Picture of Dorian Gray” that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the “Picture of Dorian Gray” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a summary of different elements of “Picture of Dorian Gray” that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “The Picture of Dorian Gray” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Exploring the Many Facets of Masculinity
There are three main male characters in this novel: Basil, Dorian Gray, and Lord Henry. Each character represents a distinct version of masculinity in The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, yet all are struggling, to a greater or lesser extent, to reconcile their versions of masculinity with the social norm. Explore each of these three types of masculinity by comparing and contrasting them, or by identifying how they influence one another. Do any of these three characters represent a male ideal? It is also worth considering how Wilde’s male characters fit into their sociohistorical context. The Victorian era was deeply preoccupied with traditional gender roles. What might Wilde want to say by challenging those traditional roles as he does?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Nature of Beauty
As The Picture of Dorian Gray opens, the importance and centrality of beauty to this novel become evident immediately. The lush descriptions of the environment, the detailed observations about the characters in The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and the appreciation that they articulate for beautiful objects, people, and experiences all suggest that beauty has a meaningful place in the novel. Citing and analyzing key passages from the text, build an argument that convinces your reader about the nature of beauty and its importance in The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Role of the Artist and/or the Arts in SocietyLike beauty, art and the artist are important concepts in The Picture of Dorian Gray, though beauty and art should not be confused; they are related yet distinct concepts. The very title of the novel positions art as an integral component to the novel’s thematic content, as well as the action of its plot. There is certainly a great deal of rich material in the text, and many ways to approach this topic. One way may be to study the portrait of Dorian Gray and its relevance to the plot. How and why does the portrait change over time, and what is the significance of the final scene, in which Dorian believes himself to be stabbing the portrait, but in which he really kills himself?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Character Development and Maturity: A Psychological/Psychoanalytic Perspective
In the world of fiction, as in life itself, some characters are likeable, while others are not. Some mature and others remain arrested in a particular phase of development. Applying a psychological or psychoanalytic perspective to The Picture of Dorian Gray, what can be said about the underlying reasons for Dorian’s perpetual immaturity? In what phase is Dorian stuck and why? Is there any evidence about his background that is relevant to build your argument? What are Dorian’s symptoms that indicate his developmental delay? Could it be argued that Dorian Gray is mentally ill? This essay requires a relatively high degree of familiarity with psychological and psychoanalytic theory. One excellent source to consider using is Erik Erikson’s “Eight Ages of Man," which can be found in his book Childhood and Society.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: The Sophistication of Select Literary Devices
What’s in a name? Wilde’s characters in The Picture of Dorian Gray are certainly colorful people, but what might their names indicate about their personality traits or their relationships to one another? How can names shape meaning in a text? What are other simple literary devices that Wilde uses to build characters, plot, and theme? Do you consider these effective or ineffective? If so, why? If not, why?
For an essay comparing themes in The Picture of Dorian Gray to another novel of the same period, follow this link
This list of important quotations from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Picture of Dorian Gray listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned. All quotes from “Picture of Dorian Gray” contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the Picture of Dorian Gray they are referring to.
“The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world. They can sit at their ease and gape at the play. If they know nothing of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat. They live as we all should live, undisturbed, indifferent, and without disquiet. They neither bring ruin upon others, nor ever receive it from alien hands. Your rank and wealth, Harry; my brains, such as they are — my art, whatever it may be worth; Dorian Gray's good looks — we shall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly’". (4-5)
” ‘Harry’,” said Basil Hallward, looking him straight in the face, ” ‘every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the colored canvas, reveals himself. The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul.’” (7)
“You know we poor artists have to show ourselves in society from time to time, just to remind the public that we are not savages." (8)
“An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them. We live in an age when men treat art as if it were meant to be a form of autobiography. We have lost the abstract sense of beauty. Some day I will show the world what it is; and for that reason the world shall never see my portrait of Dorian Gray.” (16)
“I mean everything that I have said. I have the greatest contempt for optimism. As for a spoiled life, no life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested. If you want to mar a nature, you have merely to reform it." (109)
“My dear fellow, mediæval art is charming, but mediæval emotions are out of date. One can use them in fiction, of course. But then the only things that one can use in fiction are the things that one has ceased to use in fact. Believe me, no civilized man ever regrets a pleasure, and no uncivilized man ever knows what a pleasure is.”(115)
“He had uttered a mad wish that he himself might remain young and the portrait grow old; that his own beauty might be untarnished, and the face on the canvas bear the burden of his passions and his sins; that the painted image might be seared with the lines of suffering and thought, and that he might keep all the delicate bloom and loveliness of his then just conscious boyhood. Surely his wish had not been fulfilled? Such things were impossible. It seemed monstrous even to think of them. And yet there was the picture before him, with the touch of cruelty in the mouth." (133)
“I have got through all that,” said Dorian, shaking his head, and smiling. “I am perfectly happy now. I know what conscience is, to begin with. It is not what you told me it was. It is the divinest thing in us. Don't sneer at it, Harry, any more — at least, not before me. I want to be good. I can't bear the idea of my soul being hideous.” (142)
“So I have murdered Sibyl Vane,” said Dorian Gray, half to himself — “murdered her as surely as if I had cut her little throat with a knife. Yet the roses are not less lovely for all that. The birds sing just as happily in my garden. And to-night I am to dine with you, and then go on to the Opera, and sup somewhere, I suppose, afterward. How extraordinarily dramatic life is! If I had read all this in a book, Harry, I think I would have wept over it. Somehow, now that it has happened actually, and to me, it seems far too wonderful for tears." (145)
“The only horrible thing in the world is ennui, Dorian. That is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness. But we are not likely to suffer from it,…." (301)
Reference: Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Brentano’s, 1906.