The Picture of Dorian Gray

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray: Imagery 2 key examples

Definition of Imagery
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking" contain imagery that engages... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines... read full definition
Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—The Color Red :

Throughout The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Wilde uses the color red—frequently in juxtaposition with the color white—as a potent source of visual imagery. When Wilde first acquaints the reader with Dorian Gray, Lord Henry is quick to note the titular character’s “rose-red” youth (and, further, a “rose-white” boyhood). Where whiteness might here symbolize purity, redness symbolizes vigor—perhaps evoking the lifeblood that courses through Dorian’s veins and gives him such incredible beauty. As is the case with other instances of Wilde’s use of flowers, however, the red rose of Dorian’s youth is liable to fade as he ages; this, it will turn out, constitutes the central terror of Dorian’s existence and the reason for his fatal pact with his painting.

Red flower imagery continues elsewhere in the novel. Sybil Vane’s lips are described as “red petals,” and in Chapter 4, Dorian Gray’s ethereal beauty is again compared to a rose:

With his beautiful face, and his beautiful soul, he was a thing to wonder at. It was no matter how it all ended, or was destined to end. He was like one of those gracious figures in a pageant or a play, whose joys seem to be remote from one, but whose sorrows stir one’s sense of beauty, and whose wounds are like red roses. 

Here, red roses are used to give visual imagery to a physical wound—Wilde equates the redness of blood with the redness of a rose. Such a wound, when found on one as beautiful as Dorian, nonetheless continues to “stir” one’s sense of beauty. Inevitably, however, Wilde perverts this comparison and makes it clear that red can be a color of a visceral, bodily ugliness as well: despite Dorian’s unflagging youthfulness, in Chapter 20 a blood-like red slowly permeates his portrait:

The thing was still loathsome—more loathsome, if possible, than before—and the scarlet dew that spotted the hand seemed brighter, and more like blood newly spilled. Then he trembled. Had it been merely vanity that had made him do his one good deed? Or the desire for a new sensation, as Lord Henry had hinted, with his mocking laugh? Or that passion to act a part that sometimes makes us do things finer than we are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these? And why was the red stain larger than it had been?

Still elsewhere, in Chapter 3, an allusion to Bacchanalian ritual is given a sinister feel through Wilde’s emphasis on the red wine overflowing like some torrent of blood:

Her white feet trod the huge press at which wise Omar sits, till the seething grape-juice rose round her bare limbs in waves of purple bubbles, or crawled in red foam over the vat’s black, dripping, sloping sides.

By wielding the color red in full knowledge of its implicit association with bodily vitality and the color of blood, Wilde infuses the narrative with regular visual imagery of fresh blood that feeds the Gothic overtones of Dorian Gray.

Explanation and Analysis—The Color White:

The color white is used by Wilde throughout The Picture of Dorian Gray to signify purity and innocence, particularly in contrast to (or to complement) the color red. Dorian himself is often characterized by his whiteness, as in Chapter 3:

Grace was his, and the white purity of boyhood, and beauty such as old Greek marbles kept for us. There was nothing that one could not do with him. He could be made a Titan or a toy. What a pity it was that such beauty was destined to fade!

The white imagery of this passage is twofold: on the one hand is Wilde's explicit reference to the color. On the other, however, is the imagery of classical marble—long associated with whiteness—that Wilde uses to enforce his description and complement the existing strain of classical allusion that pervades the book. In identifying in Dorian a white beauty similar to that of Greek marble, Wilde also implicitly connects Dorian’s beauty to the faded, ruined beauty of ancient civilization; after all, Greek sculpture is famous for its dilapidated appearance gained over thousands of years of deterioration. If Dorian is a marble statue, then he too will begin to crumble.

In Chapter 7, when Dorian first encounters the actress Sybil Vane, her beauty is also described using the visual imagery of white objects:

Through the crowd of ungainly, shabbily dressed actors, Sibyl Vane moved like a creature from a finer world. Her body swayed, while she danced, as a plant sways in the water. The curves of her throat were the curves of a white lily. Her hands seemed to be made of cool ivory.

Indeed, Wilde’s specific choice of a white flower and white ivory may be especially evocative: the beauty of flowers is famously ephemeral, fading as soon as it blooms, and ivory itself is an object of beauty only when violently separated from the animals which grow it. In the very same way, Sybil’s beauty in the story is very short-lived and punctuated by violence: she falters on stage, unable to sustain the elegance of her performance due to Dorian’s affections, and soon after takes her own life.

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Chapter 4
Explanation and Analysis—The Color Red :

Throughout The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Wilde uses the color red—frequently in juxtaposition with the color white—as a potent source of visual imagery. When Wilde first acquaints the reader with Dorian Gray, Lord Henry is quick to note the titular character’s “rose-red” youth (and, further, a “rose-white” boyhood). Where whiteness might here symbolize purity, redness symbolizes vigor—perhaps evoking the lifeblood that courses through Dorian’s veins and gives him such incredible beauty. As is the case with other instances of Wilde’s use of flowers, however, the red rose of Dorian’s youth is liable to fade as he ages; this, it will turn out, constitutes the central terror of Dorian’s existence and the reason for his fatal pact with his painting.

Red flower imagery continues elsewhere in the novel. Sybil Vane’s lips are described as “red petals,” and in Chapter 4, Dorian Gray’s ethereal beauty is again compared to a rose:

With his beautiful face, and his beautiful soul, he was a thing to wonder at. It was no matter how it all ended, or was destined to end. He was like one of those gracious figures in a pageant or a play, whose joys seem to be remote from one, but whose sorrows stir one’s sense of beauty, and whose wounds are like red roses. 

Here, red roses are used to give visual imagery to a physical wound—Wilde equates the redness of blood with the redness of a rose. Such a wound, when found on one as beautiful as Dorian, nonetheless continues to “stir” one’s sense of beauty. Inevitably, however, Wilde perverts this comparison and makes it clear that red can be a color of a visceral, bodily ugliness as well: despite Dorian’s unflagging youthfulness, in Chapter 20 a blood-like red slowly permeates his portrait:

The thing was still loathsome—more loathsome, if possible, than before—and the scarlet dew that spotted the hand seemed brighter, and more like blood newly spilled. Then he trembled. Had it been merely vanity that had made him do his one good deed? Or the desire for a new sensation, as Lord Henry had hinted, with his mocking laugh? Or that passion to act a part that sometimes makes us do things finer than we are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these? And why was the red stain larger than it had been?

Still elsewhere, in Chapter 3, an allusion to Bacchanalian ritual is given a sinister feel through Wilde’s emphasis on the red wine overflowing like some torrent of blood:

Her white feet trod the huge press at which wise Omar sits, till the seething grape-juice rose round her bare limbs in waves of purple bubbles, or crawled in red foam over the vat’s black, dripping, sloping sides.

By wielding the color red in full knowledge of its implicit association with bodily vitality and the color of blood, Wilde infuses the narrative with regular visual imagery of fresh blood that feeds the Gothic overtones of Dorian Gray.

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Chapter 7
Explanation and Analysis—The Color White:

The color white is used by Wilde throughout The Picture of Dorian Gray to signify purity and innocence, particularly in contrast to (or to complement) the color red. Dorian himself is often characterized by his whiteness, as in Chapter 3:

Grace was his, and the white purity of boyhood, and beauty such as old Greek marbles kept for us. There was nothing that one could not do with him. He could be made a Titan or a toy. What a pity it was that such beauty was destined to fade!

The white imagery of this passage is twofold: on the one hand is Wilde's explicit reference to the color. On the other, however, is the imagery of classical marble—long associated with whiteness—that Wilde uses to enforce his description and complement the existing strain of classical allusion that pervades the book. In identifying in Dorian a white beauty similar to that of Greek marble, Wilde also implicitly connects Dorian’s beauty to the faded, ruined beauty of ancient civilization; after all, Greek sculpture is famous for its dilapidated appearance gained over thousands of years of deterioration. If Dorian is a marble statue, then he too will begin to crumble.

In Chapter 7, when Dorian first encounters the actress Sybil Vane, her beauty is also described using the visual imagery of white objects:

Through the crowd of ungainly, shabbily dressed actors, Sibyl Vane moved like a creature from a finer world. Her body swayed, while she danced, as a plant sways in the water. The curves of her throat were the curves of a white lily. Her hands seemed to be made of cool ivory.

Indeed, Wilde’s specific choice of a white flower and white ivory may be especially evocative: the beauty of flowers is famously ephemeral, fading as soon as it blooms, and ivory itself is an object of beauty only when violently separated from the animals which grow it. In the very same way, Sybil’s beauty in the story is very short-lived and punctuated by violence: she falters on stage, unable to sustain the elegance of her performance due to Dorian’s affections, and soon after takes her own life.

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Chapter 20
Explanation and Analysis—The Color Red :

Throughout The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Wilde uses the color red—frequently in juxtaposition with the color white—as a potent source of visual imagery. When Wilde first acquaints the reader with Dorian Gray, Lord Henry is quick to note the titular character’s “rose-red” youth (and, further, a “rose-white” boyhood). Where whiteness might here symbolize purity, redness symbolizes vigor—perhaps evoking the lifeblood that courses through Dorian’s veins and gives him such incredible beauty. As is the case with other instances of Wilde’s use of flowers, however, the red rose of Dorian’s youth is liable to fade as he ages; this, it will turn out, constitutes the central terror of Dorian’s existence and the reason for his fatal pact with his painting.

Red flower imagery continues elsewhere in the novel. Sybil Vane’s lips are described as “red petals,” and in Chapter 4, Dorian Gray’s ethereal beauty is again compared to a rose:

With his beautiful face, and his beautiful soul, he was a thing to wonder at. It was no matter how it all ended, or was destined to end. He was like one of those gracious figures in a pageant or a play, whose joys seem to be remote from one, but whose sorrows stir one’s sense of beauty, and whose wounds are like red roses. 

Here, red roses are used to give visual imagery to a physical wound—Wilde equates the redness of blood with the redness of a rose. Such a wound, when found on one as beautiful as Dorian, nonetheless continues to “stir” one’s sense of beauty. Inevitably, however, Wilde perverts this comparison and makes it clear that red can be a color of a visceral, bodily ugliness as well: despite Dorian’s unflagging youthfulness, in Chapter 20 a blood-like red slowly permeates his portrait:

The thing was still loathsome—more loathsome, if possible, than before—and the scarlet dew that spotted the hand seemed brighter, and more like blood newly spilled. Then he trembled. Had it been merely vanity that had made him do his one good deed? Or the desire for a new sensation, as Lord Henry had hinted, with his mocking laugh? Or that passion to act a part that sometimes makes us do things finer than we are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these? And why was the red stain larger than it had been?

Still elsewhere, in Chapter 3, an allusion to Bacchanalian ritual is given a sinister feel through Wilde’s emphasis on the red wine overflowing like some torrent of blood:

Her white feet trod the huge press at which wise Omar sits, till the seething grape-juice rose round her bare limbs in waves of purple bubbles, or crawled in red foam over the vat’s black, dripping, sloping sides.

By wielding the color red in full knowledge of its implicit association with bodily vitality and the color of blood, Wilde infuses the narrative with regular visual imagery of fresh blood that feeds the Gothic overtones of Dorian Gray.

Unlock with LitCharts A+