In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde demonstrates the corruption of youth by taking the initial innocence of Dorian and turning his values completely immoral under the control of Lord Henry mainly through the use of symbolism. Even though he looks as though youthful and innocent his portrait reveals his truly aging and corrupt soul, this and failure in Dorian not taking responsibility for any of his own actions is what ultimately drives him insane and leads to his death. Oscar Wilde displays this through symbolism in three different ways; “The yellow book” that Lord Henry gives him, the use of “the color white” in the novel, and the influence that society itself has on Dorian. In the Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry gives Dorian a yellow book in which he does not disclose the name of the book to Dorian. Oscar Wilde describes the book in detail explaining that it is a French Novel that talks about rather crazy experiences “pleasure seeking” of the main character. The book slowly becomes almost like a bible to Dorian, he buys numerous copies of the novel, and surrounds his life around the book, making it his way of life. The book symbolizes the devastating influence that art can have. Also its can be seen as a warning to such people not to completely devote themselves to art.
Dorian’s transition from an innocent character to a degraded and corrupted being can be shown by the author’s use of the color white. White stands for innocence and nothingness, as it does when Dorian’s first introduced. It demonstrates the pureness of Dorian’s boyhood that Lord Henry finds so interesting. Basil calls on “whiteness” when he finds that Dorian has given up his innocence, and, as Basil can do nothing but look in horror at the once beautiful portrait now ruined, he quotes a verse from the Book of Isaiah: “Though your sins be as scarlet, yet I will make them as white as snow.” Unfortunately there was no turning back for Dorian. It is shown even more when he orders flowers, he asks for as few white ones as possible. When the color appears in the form of James Vane’s face “like a white handkerchief” peering in through a window, it has been significantly changed from the color of innocence to the color of death.
This I what makes Dorian want in the end, for his “rose-white boyhood,” but the hope is in vain and he is unable to wash away the stains of his sins. In the Picture of Dorian Gray society has a very large influence on Dorian in the way that he will do whatever it takes to stay beautiful. It is shown many times in the story that he refuses to take responsibility, gets people killed, and is perfectly fine with it because it is not him. For example, in chapter 8 Sibyl kills herself because Dorian no longer loves her and Dorian finds peace with himself rather quickly after Lord Henry convinces Dorian it’s not a big deal. Dorian then goes to the opium den and choses to convince himself that Sibyl’s death was just an artistic ending.
In Chapters 9 and 10 Basil admits his love to Dorian and attempts to act as a good influence trying to somehow redirect Dorian but his attempt is futile as Dorian ignores him. After spending the next 20 years or so living only for pleasure Basil tries once more and confronts Dorian trying to warn him about the consequences of sin. Neither listening or taking mind of what Basil is saying, Dorian mocks Basil’s morality and shows the painter how he managed to escape the tell-tell signs of sin. And then kills him. Once again instead of taking responsibility for what he has done he chooses to maintain his role of innocence and blackmails a friend into getting rid of the Basil problem. When Dorian’s innocent appearance is jeopardized by Sybil’s brother who has sworn vengeance for his sister, and ends up dead. Dorian has no remorse; instead he is joyful that he has yet again “escaped” trouble.
The Picture of Dorian Gray. 1890.
Good News Bible. Susan Lightly, ed. Birmingham: Liturgical Publications, 1954. “Victorian England.” Victorian England. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2012. <http://www.english.uwosh.edu/roth/VictorianEngland.htm>. SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on The Picture of Dorian Gray.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2002. Web. 6 Sept. 2012.