"Like the painting of a sorrow, a face without a heart." (Wilde, 176)
Basil’s painting of Dorian takes the emotional and physical burden of aging from him.When Dorian kills Basil, the painting bares blood. Making the reference that Basil’s blood is on Dorian’s hands when the “canvas has sweated blood” (Wilde, 142). Dorian wishes he could remain forever young and never age and has traded his soul for youth and vanity but vanity has consumed his life (13). When Dorian takes off a year to travel the world and buy expensive souvenirs, not only that but he also takes the year off so he doesn’t have to think about all the wrong doings he has committed (138). Once he had returned from his adventures, Dorian takes up Opium Dens “where one could buy oblivion, dens of horror where the memory of old sins could be destroyed by the madness of the sins that were new” (151).
Dorian realizes the wretchedness of his portrait (96) and when Basil insists on seeing the painting, he murders Basil (130). Not only does he murder someone but also he continues to blackmail the scientist Alan Campbell to dispose of Basil’s body. Dorian’s actions exemplify the fact that he is self-consumed, vain, and yet naïve at the same time.
Dorian’s selfish nature and mannerisms affect not only the painting, which encompasses his soul, but also those that become close with him. The three prime examples are: Sybil Vane, Basil, and Alan Campbell. To start things off, once Dorian realizes that he does not love Sybil for whom she is but instead the characters she portrays, he calls off the marriage (72, 81). Much like in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet she drinks a poison, committing suicide. Following the fact that Dorian murdered Basil, who had once been his best friend. Then continues to blackmail scientist Alan Campbell so he can dispose of Basil’s body (138). Campbell can no longer take the stress of being blackmailed so he shots himself committing suicide. The two suicides and one murder can all be attributed to the fact that Dorian epitomizes the word vain and narcissistic.
To tie this back with the Hamlet quote, Basil’s picture has taken all of Dorian’s sorrows and left him to be a heartless man. Where his face does not show the consequence of his wretched actions but rather his undying love to look forever young.The end chapters of the novel Dorian truly starts to understand the consequences of his actions, along with the fact that he cannot put all of his consequences for the portrait to bear. With the quote from “Hamlet” he truly realizes the horror of his vain desires. At the very end of the novel, Dorian can no longer take it. Consequently, he takes a knife and stabs the portrait. To which the servants finds an old man “with a knife in his heart” (184). “They had to examine the rings” in order to “recognized who it was” (184). With the old man being Dorian; the only way that he could be recognized what by his materialistic possessions.
"'No,’ she answered, wondering at the harsh simplicity of life.” (Wilde, 62)
In this line Mrs. Vane admits to her son that his father was not her husband. In a book that has so many elegant and rich phrasings, the blunt one word answer, “No”, does indeed feel harsh. Mrs. Vane wonders how, despite her attempts to dramatisize her life by carrying her appreciation for the stage into her real life, harsh and simple the realities of life are. This is important because only members of the lower-classes are truly brought face-to-face with these simple truths as the members of “society” are able to construct their lives as if they were constructing works of art. Even when Dorian goes down to the docks and the opium dens he admits that “Ugliness was the one reality” (156) and the lives of the lower-class are portrayed as ugly and therefore all the more real. Dorian can choose when to cross the border between the upper and lower classes but it is a border that is only permeable to the wealthy. People such as Mrs. Vane are then denied any means of escape and are constantly brought back to the “harsh simplicities of life”.
“I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream – I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of medievalism and return to the Hellenistic ideal.” (Wilde 18-19)
Patrick Duggan's critical essay "The Conflict Between Aestheticism and Morality in Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray"" agrues that, as much as Dorian as a character is the Aesthetic Movement personified, he is also a cautionary figure whose story is to be taken as a warning against the perils of aestheticism unbound. Following the example outlined by Pater, most aesthetes sought to live lives that mimicked art: “beautiful, but quite useless…concerned only with the individual living it.” This frame of mind naturally leads to a certain degree of selfishness with the true aesthete concerned only with that which will increase their own happiness. Morality, then, could not be a concern for members of the Aesthetic movement as moral restrictions would inevitably lead to the repression of desires that, if followed, could lead to happiness. Wilde, however, recognized that the goal of aestheticism was not merely to turn one’s own life into art, but to construct a world in which everything was beautiful and artistic. The unrestricted selfishness bred by hedonistic aestheticism could only lead to the violence and destruction wrought by Dorian Gray. In writing his novel, Duggan concludes, Wilde’s true intention was to alert other aesthetes to the fact that “if, in the pursuit of one’s desires and of the beautiful aspects of life, the condition of others’ or of one’s own intellect is jeopardized, the enjoyment garnered must sometimes be sacrificed for the greater good.” In the above quote from Dorian Gray the reader can see the evidence behind Duggan’s argument. Though these lines would seem to advocate an unquestioned returned to hedonism, they are spoken by Lord Henry Wotton, arguably the least aesthetic character in the book. Though Henry voices many opinions in line with Pater’s “Conclusion,” he is rarely seen acting on the ideas he espouses. He does not go to opium dens or spend his time carousing with prostitutes, but instead meets all of his social engagements and lives a life that, instead of destructive, is merely flamboyant. It would seem that Lord Henry is quite aware of the consequences of a life lived without some kind of restraint, and nurtures these ideas in Dorian merely to test a hypothesis. With his enlightened understanding of how to live an aesthetic life, it is Lord Henry and not Dorian, that Wilde wishes us to take as a model