Chapter Five begins in the home of Sybil Vane and her family. Sybil is raving about her ‘Prince Charming’ to her mother. Mrs. Vane is nervous that Sybil shouldn’t forget her acting and her earnings, but Sybil insists that love conquers money. She praises Dorian above all things, boasting of his social status as well as his affection and how he can support them now instead of Mr. Isaacs, the theater manager. Mrs. Vane scolds her daughter for being foolish.
Sybil’s love is a battle between appearances and practical concerns—between love of Dorian's beauty and affection and excitement about his money. The reality is that her low income means she must be careful, that giving up her independence could ruin her if things don't work out. But she is willing to throw it all away for love.
Mrs. Vane is a tired, anxious woman but Sybil is full of color and beauty as her mind revels in thoughts of Dorian. She remembers that Dorian is wealthy and that she must also consider the conventions of marriage, and thinks herself unworthy. She wonders why Dorian loves her. She asks her mother what it was like to love her father, but there is obviously some tragedy in the story and Sybil apologizes for bringing him up. Mrs. Vane seems to have many reasons for disapproving of Sybil’s mood, that she is too young, that she doesn’t even know Prince Charming’s real name, but also that her brother James Vane is leaving for Australia, and it is inconsiderate to overwhelm the occasion.
The difference between youth and age is made clear and vivid in this passage. Youth is innocent and happy, while age is difficult and unyielding. The sense that life is repeating itself and especially its tragedies—as hammered home by the vague tragedy involved in Sybil's parent's attachment—taints the whole scene with a tone of coming tragedy.
Jim arrives on cue. He is a thick-set young man, very unlike his fine-featured sister. As he enters, Mrs. Vane is conscious of the ‘tableau’ of the room, but Jim has no taste for drama. He asks Sybil to come for a walk with him. They are obviously very loving siblings, and they hug and tease affectionately. Even though Jim thinks the park is too posh for him, they decide to go and Sybil disappears to dress.
Appearances create the dynamic of the family. Sybil is protected because of her pale, innocent beauty and Jim is made to feel self-conscious. As visual descriptions rule, so does the need for art, and Mrs. Vane curates her home like a stage, removing the reality and the maternal atmosphere.
Now alone with her son, Mrs. Vane contemplates the feeling of unease she has with him. She talks to cover it up, reminding him of the difficulty of his choice to go to sea instead of working as a solicitor. Jim dismisses the issue. His real concern is Sybil. Mrs. Vane assures him that she will look after Sybil and that her suitor is a perfect gentleman, very good looking and it might lead to a good marriage. Jim is not convinced and again asks her to promise to watch over Sybil. As Sybil returns and the pair go out for their walk, Mrs. Vane’s unease comes back, and she is fearful of her son’s mood.
Mrs. Vane’s unease around her son Jim is strangely unexplained, leaving their relationship and the scenes where they are alone together quite ominous. Jim’s sense of the danger Sybil could be in and strong desire to protect her establishes him as someone to be reckoned with, and also sets up the expectation that somehow Dorian will end up on Jim's bad side. It's interesting to note that the Vanes are the only family portrayed in the novel, and they are somewhat of a disconnected and dysfunctional bunch.
As Jim and Sybil take their walk, Jim is conscious of the difference in their appearance. Sybil is completely oblivious. She chats about Jim’s future plans absent-mindedly, so that she can secretly think about her Prince Charming as they go along. She makes plans for Jim, feeling superior to him in experience of life, but Jim himself is nervous to leave and even more so because he distrusts Sybil’s attachment and their mother’s shallow opinion of it. There’s something else on his mind too, some rumor that he meant to ask his mother about.
Sybil is the picture of innocence as she walks along, blindly devoted to Dorian whom she barely knows. A link is made between beauty and innocence. Sybil, young and beautiful, is contrasted vividly with her plain, more grounded brother, who seems to have more experience of life’s trials.
Jim asks Sybil about her ‘new friend’ and Sybil tells him everything, saying that now she has found real love, her acting will astonish the audience like never before. Jim is suspicious but Sybil answers each concern with resolute passion, and condescends to Jim that he will understand when he finds love himself. She assures him that she’s the happiest she’s ever been and that just as Jim is starting an adventure in a new world, so is she.
Sybil is open, not hiding anything, she has become the symbol of purity that Dorian used to be. In a way represents everything that Dorian covets, youth and eternal life, which she achieves through in her roles on stage. Art gives a kind of immortality.
They sit and watch the passers-by and Jim begins to talk of his own plans, but Sybil suddenly thinks she sees ‘Prince Charming’ in the distance and Jim’s fear returns. He threatens to kill the man if he mistreats her. Sybil scolds Jim for his aggression. She tells him he’s jealous and inexperienced. Jim protests but reluctantly agrees that he wouldn’t harm someone who loved and was loved by Sybil. When the pair arrives home, Sybil is due to rest before her performance, so they say goodbye upstairs to avoid making a scene. Despite their quarrel, they part lovingly and Jim comes down to eat his final supper with tears in his eyes.
The near sighting of Dorian only serves to increase the anticipation surrounding him and the importance of his visual appearance. Jim's threats of violence continue to raise the stakes should anything go wrong between Dorian and Sybil. Sybil sees love as making her experienced, but Jim shows his experience in his cynicism about it working out.
The atmosphere is tense between Jim and his mother at dinner until Jim asks his mother outright whether she and his father had ever been married, and, relieved that it is out in the open, Mrs. Vane says no. She explains a situation similar to Sybil’s – their father was a gentleman and not free to marry her. With sudden sympathy for his mother’s tears, Jim comforts her. But the worry about his sister’s protection colors Jim’s final moments with his mother. He swears to kill anyone who mistreats her. Mrs. Vane loves the melodrama of the moment and wishes it could continue, but the practicalities of her son’s departure take over. She expresses her sadness later to Sybil, to be left with only one child.
The women in the novel are caught between two extremes. They are, like Sybil’s mother, stuck in their social class, or like Henry’s friends, unhappily married and scorned for being too clever. The repetition of life’s hardships recalls Henry’s view that one should relive mistakes. It also forebodes further tragedy to follow as the cycle continues. Just when we see some sympathy and human connection between Mrs. Vane and her son, the preference for art and the drama of the moment transforms Mrs. Vane back into her stereotype.