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English Literature CFL - VNU

INNER AND OUTER BEAUTY IN DORIAN GRAY


The term 'beauty' may have very relative significance. Something can be beautiful for us, but
ugly for other people. The external beauty of a person is often the first thing that we pay
attention to. This is the result of the association of beauty with good and ugliness with evil.
Through the outer appearance we make a general opinion about a given person.
Such a way of thinking may be very misleading. In order to get to know the person we need to
look to the inside - into the soul. This is the place where the real beauty and ugliness are
hidden.The notion of inner and outer beauty is perfectly presented in the novel 'The Picture of
Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde. The story described in this book shows how the external
attractiveness influences people's behavior and corrupts the inner beauty. The plot situated in the
XIX England perfectly describes the higher class of this period
Shallow and two-faced society is concentrated only on the esthetical values of the surrounding.
Youth and beauty are the most precious and cultivated things. Even the worst deeds are forgotten
if your beauty is extraordinary. The main character, Dorian Gray is an example of a person from
a higher class. This twenty-year old and extremely handsome young man is regarded among
society as an ideal of beauty.
His Physical attractiveness draws the attention of a very talented painter Basil Hallward. He
decides to immortalize Dorian's beauty and paints his portrait. In the meantime Dorian meets
cynical nobleman, Lord Henry Wotton. Just like everyone else, Lord Henry is astonished by the
prettiness and innocence of Dorian. Henry is a charming talker, and his views concerning beauty
are the same as the views of other members of aristocracy. He cherishes it above all considering
it as the most important thing in life.
The talk with Lord Henry makes Dorian to think about the elapsing of the physical
attractiveness. He realizes that some day his charm and youth will disappear and he will not be
able to live a careless life anymore. This thought scares him very much especially when he sees
the finished portrait, painted by Basil. He makes a whish, which will change his life forever: 'If it
were I who was to be always young and the picture that was to grow old! For that I would give
anything! Yes, there is nothing in the world I would not give! I would give my soul for that'
(Chapter 2). Dorian is not aware of he fact that this wish will come true.
From now on the slow corruption of his soul begins. Under the influence of Lord Henry, Dorian
is more and more eager for seeking pleasure in life. This becomes his priority. Realizing his
astonishing look, Dorian's deeds become more and more cruel and his inside starts changing
irreversibly. The first significant change in his inner beauty occurs after meeting an actress, Sybil
Vane.
At the beginning we may think that his affection to her is true, but soon after it is obvious that he
fell in love only with her acting. Therefore, when Lord Henry criticizes Sybil's acting Dorian
finds no other reasons for being with her:' I loved you because you were marvelous, because you
had genius and intellect, because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and
substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away. You are shallow and stupid. My
God! How mad I was to love you! What a fool I have been!'(Chapter 7). The cruel break up
becomes the first step to Dorian's downfall.
The first change appears in the picture, reflecting the corruption of his soul. The face in the
picture changes its expression. It is no longer beautiful and innocent but rather cruel and
incalculable. It represents the same emotions, which accompanied Dorian while breaking up with
Sybil. He realizes that the wish made in front of the painting became true. His outer beauty did
not change at all, but his inner beauty began to fade away.
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English Literature CFL - VNU
For a short time remorse and fear occur inside Dorian, especially when he learns of Sybil's
suicide. Nevertheless, Lord Henry convinces him about the artistic values of her death:' There is
something to me quite beautiful about her death. I am glad I am living in a century when such
wonders happen. They make one believe in the reality of the things we all play with, such as
romance, passion, and love' (Chapter 7). The fear that other people could see the portrait forces
Dorian to hide it.
When he is sure no one will discover his secret he starts to live a life full of pleasure and
sensation. His love to his own beauty makes his deeds more and more repulsive. It all happens
by the consent of the society, which judges Dorian on the basis of his look. In the belief that
good look comes together with good character people do not pay attention to the evil stories
about him. After eighteen years Dorian's beauty is still perfect and untouched.
The fear of someone seeing the picture starts to plunge him into madness. His love to
aestheticism is seen in every aspect of life. He studies music and art and fills his house with
beautiful objects from all around the world. The art has also other significance for him. He uses
it as an excuse for his evil deeds. He commits the sins for the sake of the beauty and art.
That is how he excuses his next crime, murder of Basil Hallward. When the painter sees the
picture, his own work of art, he is terrified by what he sees. The figure on the portrait does not
resemble his beloved friend anymore. On the contrary, the picture presents an old man with
horrific evil on his face. Basil comprehends that the beautiful and young face of Dorian Gray is
just a cover for his rotten and deprived of every goodness inside:' There was nothing evil in it,
nothing shameful.
You were to me such an ideal, as I shall never meet you again. This is the face of a satyr. Christ!
What a thing I must have worshipped! It has the eyes of a devil!'(Chapter 13). Dorian in the rush
of the madness kills Basil. Thereafter he notices the next change in his picture, the blood on his
hands.
He uses opium to hush up his guilty conscience, an evil creature that is hidden inside. Going to
the danes for the opium is like a reality check. Dirty ugliness and desperation of the people are
absolutely true here, on the contrary to the false beauty and happiness of the higher class. One of
his night's escapades for the opium almost ends up with his death. James Vane, Sybil's brother,
recognizes Dorian and blames him for his sister's death. Unexpectedly the life of Dorian is
rescued by his eternal youth.Constant fear for life and increasing remorse make that Dorian's
feeling deteriorate.
Even the news about Vane's accidental death makes him fell better only for a short time. Than he
finally understands how disgusting sins he committed. Looking back on his life, he sees how big
mistake he made by trusting Lord Henry. The blind love for the outer beauty destroyed other's
people lives and his soul as well. Now he knows that the attractiveness is overrated and the real
beauty lies in the heart. Unfortunately he does not have enough courage to admit his crimes.
He decides to destroy the picture thinking it will blot out his past and restore peace and
happiness to his life. He is not aware of the fact that by destroying the picture he destroys his
own soul. When Dorian Gray dies, the picture returns to its primeval looks, showing his
magnificent outer beauty.The book is full of allegories and illusions. Even the title has a deeper
meaning. The word 'dorian' means 'golden' in ancient Greek. The linking of two colors: golden
and gray perfectly reflects complexity of the main character. Dorian is an example of a
Narcissist, a person who is in love with his own look. His glamorous good looks contrasts with
the rotten and evil inside.

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English Literature CFL - VNU
The story shows how shallow people can be while judging others. Another interesting point is
the misleading statement that the beauty always comes together with goodness. The painting
which serves as a mirror of Dorian's soul perfectly reflects the inevitably changes in his
character, while the beauty of his face is unchanged. No one beliefs in the evil stories about him
because of his outstanding outer appearance,' The Picture of Dorian Gray' is a timeless story
about what is really important in life, namely our inside. Only by knowing our hidden emotions
we can really judge whether the person is good or bad.

STUDY QUESTIONS

1. Discuss the character of Lord Henry and his impact on Dorian.


“Don’t spoil him,” Basil begs Lord Henry just before introducing him to Dorian. “Don’t try to
influence him. Your influence would be bad.” But influence is what Lord Henry does best and
what he enjoys most; inevitably, his charm, wit, and intellect hold tremendous sway over the
impressionable Dorian. This influence, as Basil foresees, is primarily negative—if Dorian is like
Faust, the fictional character who sells his soul for knowledge, then Lord Henry is something of
a Mephistopheles, the devil who tempts Faust into the bargain. Lord Henry is a cynical aesthete,
a lover of beauty with a contempt for conventional morality, and he views Dorian as a disciple
with the potential to live out his philosophy of hedonism.
One must not overstate Lord Henry’s role as a villain, however. Indeed, above all else, Lord
Henry prizes individualism, which allows one to live one’s life boldly, freely, and according to
one’s own edicts. Because Dorian so willingly assumes the role of disciple, the real source of his
downfall rests in his willingness to sacrifice himself to another’s vision. Following Lord Henry’s
advice and influenced by the “yellow book” that Lord Henry gives him, Dorian gradually allows
himself to fall deep into a life of sin, all in the name of pursuing pleasure—which, according to
Lord Henry, is the highest good. But, significantly, Lord Henry himself never seems to stray
from the straight and narrow: he shocks cocktail guests with his ideas but never puts them into
practice himself. He is a thinker, not a doer, and by the end of the novel, he seems curiously
naïve about where his philosophy, if put into action, would lead him. Unwilling (or unable) to
see the effects of his philosophy, he continues to champion his ideas even after they have ruined
his protégé’s life.
2. How the portrait changed
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
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English Literature CFL - VNU
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.
CHAPTER 2 – ANALYSIS
The preface was not included in the first printings of the novel, but was added later by Wilde as a
direct response to accusations of immorality and indecency. Several of the statements made in
the preface are thus purely defensive: for example, Wilde writes that "When critics disagree the
artist is in accordance with himself." However, the preface also establishes many of the novel's
major themes and provides the reader with a means of interpreting different aspects of the story.
The opening chapters introduce us to the novel's major players. We learn a great deal about Lord
Henry, Basil, and Dorian, and are provided with information that will inform the development of
the story. The ways that Wilde portrays each character's personality are particularly notable. For
instance, the reader meets the incomplete portrait of Dorian before Dorian himself even makes
his first appearance. Dorian exists as a beautiful but essentially superficial image first and

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English Literature CFL - VNU
foremost, even before he exists as a human being. After all, the title of the book is The Picture of
Dorian Gray, suggesting that the novel is about the image of the man, rather than about the man
himself. In this manner, Wilde begins to blur the distinction between man and image (a practice
that begins in earnest when the picture comes to reflect the true nature of Dorian's soul), raising
questions as to the true location of one's identity, and the value of superficiality. Lord Henry
remarks that "It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances" (21), and Wilde offers
the reader no choice but to do so in this instance. Like Basil, who seems more smitten with
Dorian as a model than as a person, like Lord Henry, who claims to value beauty above all else,
and like Victorian society in general, the book itself seems more concerned with the image of the
protagonist than with the man himself.
At times, both Basil and Lord Henry seem to ascribe to ideals consistent with those of the author.
Basil asserts that "there is nothing that art cannot express"; is a dirct rephrasing of the line "the
artist can express everything" from the preface. Lord Henry's habit of constantly spouting
"profound" aphorisms and his languid, sensual personality recall Wilde's own social persona.
However, to assume that either character is intended to be read as a representation of Wilde
himself is a fallacy. Both characters also express opinions that directly contradict with the beliefs
found in the preface; a fact that becomes clearer as the novel progresses.
Basil's reclusiveness is mentioned early on almost as an afterthought, but plays an important role
later in the novel. Since he customarily withdraws from society on a regular basis, his absence is
unremarkable when he eventually disappears for good. Another notable aspect of Basil's
character is his personal devotion to Dorian. There are a number of indications that the painter is
smitten with Dorian on more than a professional level. These feelings, based on Dorian's beauty
and purity, eventually lead to rejection by the boy, and ultimately to Basil's alleged inability to
create any more great art.
The second chapter, in which Dorian himself makes his first appearance, describes the beginning
of Dorian's corruption at the hands of Lord Henry. It also introduces Dorian's inadvertantly
faustian bargain, as the boy pleads for the picture to age in his place. Worth noting is the fact that
Lord Henry invites Dorian into Basil's garden as he delivers his lecture on youth, beauty, and the
value of immorality. This Eden-like setting emphasizes the fact that Dorian's response to Henry's
words represents the boy's fall from grace; it is Dorian's original sin.
Dorian's initial response to the portrait recalls the statement made in the preface that "Those who
find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming." The painting is a
masterpiece, certainly a "beautiful thing," but the image sparks jealousy and hatred in Dorian
because it reminds him of the fleeting nature of his own youth. He is already "corrupt without
being charming," but this marks the starting point of his steady fall from grace. Basil's attempt to
destroy the painting with a knife, and Dorian's exclamation that "It would be murder"
foreshadows the events that take place in chapters 13 and 20.

CHAPTER 20 – ANALYSIS
While thinking of Hetty, Dorian remembers telling her that he was a very wicked man, to which
she responded that "wicked people were always very old and very ugly." Like the shallow people
of Dorian's class, the "pure" Hetty assumes that appearance is everything. While this
superficiality is precisely what allows Dorian to win so many hearts, it also prevents anyone
from truly knowing who he is.

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English Literature CFL - VNU
Dorian resolves to undo his past, to block it from his thoughts, and to focus on ensuring a
positive future. He crushes the mirror given to him by Lord Henry, a symbolic rejection of his
own vanity and the corrupting influence of Henry's friendship. He desperately clings to his
treatment of Hetty as an indicator that it is possible to cleanse his soul, but it is too little, too late.
Even this seemingly conscientious gesture was committed out of the hedonistic desire to
experience an unfamiliar sensation, and the vain wish to improve the appearance of his soul, as
depicted in the portrait. Vanity, not morality, drove his action, proving once again that Dorian is
a condemned soul.
When Dorian kills himself by trying to destroy the painting, the picture and the man once again
trade appearances. The man in the portrait becomes young and beautiful, while the real Dorian
becomes old and disfigured by guilt. Dorian has unwittingly realized the fear he had upon first
seeing the painting: that he would wither and die, while the painting would remain young and
beautiful forever. Furthermore, since the painting has been restored to its original appearance, the
masterpiece of Basil Hallward is returned to the world. Dorian, seeing the knife, thinks that "As
it had killed the painter, so it would kill the painter's work" (177), but the work and the painter
are instead granted the immortality of artistic greatness, while Dorian himself is destroyed.
The weapon used by Dorian is the same one he had used to kill Basil. Ironically, Basil offered to
destroy the painting with a knife as soon as he sensed Dorian's negative reaction to it (chapter 2),
but Dorian's newfound vanity and appreciation for artistic beauty prompted him to throw his own
body in front of the image. Eighteen years and eighteen chapters later, Dorian decides to do
precisely what he had prevented from happening, and once again his body throws itself before
the painting, subject to the dangers of its beauty.

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