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The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a novel by Oscar Wilde revolving around a portrait painted by Basil Hallward, a painter and one of Dorian’s friends. The main themes in the story are founded on the conversation between Lord Henry Wotton and Basil about the pain. Lord Henry thinks the portrait should be displayed to people, but Basil disagrees. Basil is afraid of portraying the painting to people because he believes they would notice his obsession with Dorian based on the level of attention to detail in the painting. The conversation continues when Dorian enters the studio, and Lord Henry begins sharing his beliefs with him. As Dorian listens to Lord Henry’s explanation of his belief that a person should live their life to the fullest by indulging in their impulses, his transformation begins, eventually resulting in a total change in his identity. Therefore, a person’s identity can be shaped by the transformations initiated by their interactions with people who have contrary beliefs and perceptions.

The Theme of Transformation in the Novel and Its Effect on Identity

One of the main themes in The Picture of Dorian Gray is transformation. Dorian undergoes a personal transformation that significantly impacts his identity after meeting Lord Henry. According to Devine (32), personal transformation is characterized by the desire to develop self-awareness, which makes a person shift their spirit or personality by redefining their response to others and self. Dorian’s transformation is evident in how he changes his personality and view of others throughout the novel. For instance, at the beginning of the novel, he is portrayed as innocent and handsome. However, after meeting Lord Basil, he transforms into a selfish person who is only interested in meeting his needs. Lord Henry’s advice and the constant praises that Dorian receives from Basil make him believe he is above everyone else because he is beautiful and young. His identity gradually transforms from seeing himself as an ordinary person in society who can interact with anyone around him into seeing himself as godly, pushing him to focus on his appearance. He begins believing that beauty is the only thing that matters, leading to an obsession with his youth and appearance. He also begins using his appearance to charm and influence others, which changes his attitude toward others and makes him develop a sense of entitlement and the need to show off.

Dorian’s transformation from a humble, friendly person to a self-centered person also affects his identity by making him believe that he does not owe anyone anything as long as he is happy. Lord Henry’s statement, “Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensation. With your personality, there is nothing you could not do” (Wilde 30), makes Dorian disregard other people’s needs and begin outing his needs first. This new identity is evident in her relationship with Sibyl Vane. Sibyl Vane had dedicated her life to acting even before she met Dorian and was determined to develop a successful career. However, after meeting Dorian, she could not perform well because she believed she may be hiding in a world far from reality. She developed the need to step into the real world and express herself without hiding herself in acting, which made Dorian conclude that she was not a good actor. She then commits suicide after realizing that Dorian does not love her anymore, but Dorian is not bothered by Sibyl’s death. Dorian’s reaction to Sibyl’s death shocked Basil when he realized that Dorian could talk about another woman cheerfully and go to the opera instead of feeling guilty for hurting Sybil to the extent that she committed suicide.

How Dorian Gray’s Physical and Psychological Transformation Reflect the Novel’s Broader Themes

Dorian’s physical transformation reflects the theme of restoration in the novel. After Dorian’s death, he transforms into a monstrous-looking, shriveled corpse, and the painting regains its beauty and youth. His death is triggered by events that prepare the audience for the transformation from life to death and back to life after death. According to Nounadonde, Dorian’s death signifies the end of a contract between Dorian Gray and the portrait (44). Before his death, Dorian states that he would sacrifice anything, including his soul, for him to stay young and for the portrait to get old. He constantly looks at the picture but realizes that his image in the picture continues to become disfigured, which signifies being restored from the misleading beliefs that he had been passed on to him by Lord Henry. However, he is not willing to let go of his beliefs, and he ends up murdering Basil to protect his secret and stabs the portrait to remove the curse that he believes is making him get old. He eventually stabs himself, leading to the full transformation of the painting and an end to his moral degradation.

Dorian’s psychological transformation reflects the themes of indulgence of the senses, psychological conflict, power, and the conflict between good and evil. According to Gale, the novel interprets the theme of indulgence of sense in two ways (7). The first one is Dorian’s decision to follow Lord Henry’s advice, which eventually destroys many people’s lives, leading to suicide and murder and corrupting his soul. The second one is considering Dorian’s failure to understand the negative impact of Lord Henry’s advice on his life and whether he may have misinterpreted it. He also fails to consider his friend’s observations to self-reflect on his actions. For instance, when Basil realizes that Dorian’s character has changed, he informs him, “You look exactly the same wonderful boy who, day after day, used to come down to my studio to sit for his picture. But you were simple, natural, and affectionate then. You were the most unspoiled creature in the whole world. Now you talk as if you had no heart, no pity in you” (Wilde 103). Basil’s statement does not bother Dorian as he just continues showing his disregard for others and putting his needs first.

According to Magnúsdóttir, Dorian is aware that he is experiencing a conflict between good and evil because of the influence of Lord Henry, forcing him toward the evil path, and Basil’s advice pushing him towards the right path (12). Dorian is also determined to follow Lord Henry’s advice but is aware that Basil knows his secret and may reveal it to the people he has worked so hard to show that he can continue looking young and beautiful over 18 years, which is why he decides to kill him. Dorian’s final action indicates that evil won over good, and Lord Henry’s advice had completely degraded Dorian’s morals to the point that he would rather take his own life than admit that he is a normal human being who can get old and lose the beauty that everyone admired in his youth. The conflict between evil and good is also evident in Dorian’s lifestyle. For example, he demonstrates that he can love another person rather than himself when he shows interest in Sibyl, but he rejects her after learning that she cannot act, which pushes Sibyl to commit suicide. Evil then wins over good when he begins to focus on moving on with his life without showing any guilt for his role in Sibyl’s decision to commit suicide. The conflict between evil and good eventually leads to a psychological conflict. Naratri argues that Dorian’s psychological conflict is triggered by the superego developed by Lord Henry (7). Lord Henry’s statement, “There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!” makes Dorian take all measures possible to avoid getting old (Naratri 7). This leads to a psychological conflict because he understands that aging is a natural process bound to occur but believes that he can control the process and remain young and beautiful. Eventually, he loses control over his mental state and kills Basil before killing himself.

The theme of power is evident in Dorian’s transformation after meeting Lord Henry. Lord Henry has too much power and influence over Dorian to the extent that he cannot make rational decisions. According to Fayard, Dorian starts acting as an agent of Lord Henry’s influence after getting into contact with his influence by transmitting it to others and repeating it (22). For example, Dorian repeats one of Henry’s beliefs when talking to Henry’s wife. Henry’s wife responds, “Ah! That is one of Harry’s views, isn’t it, Mr. Gray? I always hear Harry’s views from his friends” (Wilde 43). This interaction indicates that Lord Henry has influenced Dorian’s thinking based on the power of his statements and his ability to convince him that his beliefs are correct. The statement also indicates that Lord Henry’s beliefs control Dorian’s thoughts because Lord Henry’s beliefs are more powerful than what Dorian believed before the two met at Basil’s studio.


Picture of Dorian Gray demonstrates that a person’s identity can be shaped by the transformations initiated by their interactions with people who have contrary beliefs and perceptions. Dorian experiences various transformations after interacting with Lord Henry, resulting in a shift in identity from seeing himself as an ordinary person in society who can interact with anyone around him to seeing himself as godly, pushing him to begin focusing on how he looks. Dorian also transforms from a humble, friendly person to a self-centered person, affecting his identity by making him believe that he does not owe anyone anything as long as he is happy. Dorian’s transformation creates the foundation for themes such as restoration, the indulgence of the sense, psychological conflict, power, and the conflict between good and evil. The themes arise from Dorian’s actions during and after his physical and psychological transformation.

 Works Cited

Devine, CaSondra. “Defining Moments: Toward a Comprehensive Theory of Personal Transformation.” International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, vol. 4, no. 5, 2014, p. 32. 1,

Fayard, Kimberly. The Picture Of Social Power: A Study of the Infectious Influence of Ideology in the Picture of Dorian Gray, 2017,

Gale, Cengage. “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Enotes.Com,, Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

Magnúsdóttir, Svanhvít. The Battle of Good and Evil in the Picture of Dorian Gray – Skemman, 2015,

Naratri, Aisya. “Psychological Conflict of Dorian Gray in the Novel Entitled the Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.” Diponegoro University, Diponegoro University, 2015, chromeextension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/

Nounadonde, Jean. “The supernatural side in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.” International Journal on Studies in English Language and Literature, vol. 5, no. 9, 2017, p. 44,

Wilde, Oscar. “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Vol. 3: The Picture of Dorian Gray: The 1890 and 1891 Texts, 1890, pp. 1–82,


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This assignment requires you to write a research-based essay on Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” using both the novel and the film adaptation we watched in class as primary sources.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Your essay should explore a specific aspect of the novel, its adaptation, or a comparison of both, supported by analysis and interpretation drawn from a minimum of five credible academic secondary sources.

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