The Picture of Dorian Gray is an enlightening book with a very profound sense. The novel discusses many themes that tend to be the eternal problems of the society. Oscar Wilde was an excellent writer who managed to make the novel very bright with the help of a huge number of stylistic devices. The author’s main intention is to show the reader the importance of a person’s inner beauty and how the soul’s ugliness may affect all people who are acquainted with this person.
The book contains a variety of themes: the predominance of aesthetics and youthfulness; the value and importance of life and death in the society; the power, depth, and reliability of feelings; the inequality of the poor and the rich; the insincerity of the contemporary society. The impact of bad people and selling the soul to the devil are some other themes raised in the novel.
A reader can observe the theme of the predominance of youthfulness and aesthetics throughout the whole novel. It is possible to state that this theme is the leading one in this book. Oscar Wilde depicts the main character as extremely handsome and eternally young. Being young and beautiful is definitely not a crime. However, the problem is that the society worships the beauty and young age. Almost all people who meet Dorian are so impressed by his good looks that they do not even try to learn what kind of person he is. His appearance blinds the minds of both women and men. Nowadays, this issue is as pressing as it was a century ago: few people care about a person’s true nature. If a person is good-looking, no matter if male or female, the society fails to notice this person’s flaws. The author shows Dorian’s real face with the help of the portrait that becomes more and more disgusting with the course of time. The author’s leading intention is to make the reader realize that the inner beauty is much more significant than the outer one that all people see. When a person is young, people take into account the appearance. However, when the time passes and this person becomes old, the image of beauty fades very fast, but the thought of a person’s inner beauty remains in people’s hearts forever.
Another theme is life and death and their value in the society. The author tries to say to the reader that sooner or later all people die. When a person perishes, he or she becomes equal to anyone else. The problem of the society is that few people realize that the life will inevitably come to an end, and somebody may ask about every single bad deed. When Dorian dies, he starts to look like a portrait while the portrait returns to its original beauty. Thus, Dorian’s most awful fear is losing his beauty. Even after his death, the punishment reaches him: he becomes ugly and old. The author hints that the way a person lives his or her life will still be significant after death. There is a certain power that will make anybody pay, so living a good life makes sense. Members of the society often fail to value a person when he or she lives. Thus, Dorian’s terrible behavior remains mostly unnoticed while he lives and only death reveals it. The same is with Sibyl Vane. While she is alive, Dorian does not value her. However, when she dies, he starts to feel the emptiness and regrets about his mistakes.
The novel also represents the theme of the power, depth, and reliability of feelings. It is related not only to romance, but also to friendship. The reader can observe how Dorian betrays everyone who has feelings towards him. Basil is his first victim: the painter trusts him, considers him a good friend, and adores him. Dorian seems to accept these feelings and answers them. However, Dorian becomes bored as soon as he finds someone more interesting. The same situation happens to poor Sybil Vane: she finds strength to believe Dorian and opens her heart. In return, she receives only pain and grievance. It is also significant to mention that Dorian treats all women he meets as toys: he uses them and throws away. Although all those women are desperately in love with him, he acts as if he feels the same to watch them suffer later. Dorian’s good looks spoil him, and he gets used to receiving love and giving nothing in return. Such behavior is common for people who look perfect since it is difficult for them to learn how to feel. Instead, they just play with other people.
A person experiences many influences from both living and non-living things. Of course, these influences may be good. However, Oscar Wilde is focused on the consequences to which bad influences may lead. Thus, the love that Sibyl Vane starts to feel towards Dorian affects her play and makes it terrible. Later, that love and its effect on Sibyl results in her death. Another example is Lord Henry who manipulates Dorian and makes a monster out of an innocent young man.
The novel also reveals the inequality of the poor and the rich. Almost all members of the upper middle class are so tired of their steady and wealthy existence that they start to try to diversify it at least somehow. Usually these changes are dangerous and cruel not only to themselves but also to people who surround them. Those who have money can defend themselves. However, people who belong to the lower class cannot afford defending themselves and suffer the most. As a result, the members of the lower class become victims of those who act as if they are superior beings.
Selling the soul to the devil is also an important theme in Oscar Wilde’s work. One may notice that there is a breaking point that changes the course of events in Dorian’s life – the moment when he admits that he does not want to grow old or lose his attractiveness ever. Then a certain power makes his impulsive desire come true. Taking into account the kind of person he turns into, it is possible to state that this power is the devil. Therefore, he sacrifices his soul in order to stay young and handsome.
Oscar Wilde uses many stylistic devices in the novel. Among them, he uses a big number of metaphors to make the novel more vivid. For example, “The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion” (Wilde 9). Here the author tries to tell that there are many models and many faces in the life of a painter. Basically, a model does not mean much in the art because it is an artist who paints a portrait and puts his or her soul into it. Here is another example of the metaphor: “And for the first time in my life I saw in the plain woodland the wonder I had always looked for, and always missed” (Wilde 14). These are Basil’s words and his explanation what Dorian means to him. He compares Dorian with the wonder that filled his life with joy and sense.
If to consider the dialogue in the novel, it should be said that it is rather humorous and witty. The dialogue is enriched with Oscar Wilde’s short sayings that are extremely witty. Nowadays, a huge number of these sayings are widely used in English language. In many cases, the foundation of these sayings is irony or an inversion of logic. For example, Lord Henry says: “I always like to know everything about my new friends, and nothing about my old ones” (Wilde 36). This saying is not only humorous, but it also characterizes Lord Henry: he quickly gets bored of everything, including people, so he changes friends all the time and does not want to hear anything about the old ones. Here is a gorgeous expression full of the deep sense: “Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic” (Wilde 36). The more obstacles a person overcomes in life, the stronger he or she becomes. The stronger this person becomes, the more pain he or she can bear. As a result, the person’s eyes reveal all those events when somebody looks into them.
The portrait is the main symbol in the novel. It represents Dorian’s soul. Each bad deed makes the portrait uglier which means that it makes Dorian’s soul worse and worse. The yellow book is one more symbolic thing in the novel. Dorian receives this book as a gift from Lord Henry. This book is very precious to Dorian, and it influences his life, attitudes and behavior in an awful way. The yellow book represents the impact of art on an individual that may be damaging and profound.
The Picture of Dorian Gray allows the reader to fall to thinking about the issues that each person should settle for himself or herself in life. These issues are connected with life and death, the poor and the rich, love and betrayal, the good and the evil. With the help of his wisdom and a variety of finely created stylistic devices, Oscar Wilde leads the reader towards many answers.