The Picture of Dorian Gray

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray: Personification 2 key examples

Definition of Personification
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down on the wedding guests, indifferent... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the... read full definition
Chapter 14
Explanation and Analysis—Murderous Memory:

The morning after Dorian murders Basil, he does not immediately remember what he has done. As Dorian awakens, Wilde cleverly uses personification to give movement to the returning memory of the attack:

Gradually the events of the preceding night crept with silent, blood-stained feet into his brain and reconstructed themselves there with terrible distinctness. He winced at the memory of all that he had suffered, and for a moment the same curious feeling of loathing for Basil Hallward that had made him kill him as he sat in the chair came back to him, and he grew cold with passion.

The memory of the murder, through this personification, becomes a creeping intruder sneaking into Dorian’s head in the “blood-stained” aftermath of a horrible crime. The memory betrays Dorian’s new identity as a murderer by behaving as one, invading his consciousness with knowledge of his actions. By describing Dorian’s memory in this way, Wilde both heightens the horror of Dorian’s actions and brutally conveys the painful feeling of confronting them—whether Dorian wants to or not.  Dorian's inability to escape the consequences of his own actions is a recurrent theme throughout the novel, and this passage is just one more example of Dorian facing down his deteriorating morality.

Chapter 20
Explanation and Analysis—Dorian's Knife:

As The Portrait of Dorian Gray reaches its violent conclusion, Wilde engages in a subtle act of personification as he describes the knife that Dorian uses to kill Basil and with which he will shortly hereafter attempt to destroy the painting:

He looked round and saw the knife that had stabbed Basil Hallward. He had cleaned it many times, till there was no stain left upon it. It was bright, and glistened. As it had killed the painter, so it would kill the painter’s work, and all that that meant. It would kill the past, and when that was dead, he would be free. It would kill this monstrous soul-life, and without its hideous warnings, he would be at peace. He seized the thing, and stabbed the picture with it.

Wilde gives agency to the knife by making it the subject of the sentences. According to this phrasing, it was the knife—not Dorian—that killed Basil, and it is the knife that will destroy the painting. In fact, even the painting and the past itself are brought to life in this passage as potential victims for the knife’s murderous intent: the knife would “kill the painter’s work,” and then “kill the past.”

Wilde spends much time in The Portrait of Dorian Gray interrogating the role of inanimate objects, and more specifically works of literature and art, in changing people's morality. It is thus fitting that in the final moments of the story Wilde shows the reader how Dorian identifies the knife as the object with murderous intent and the painting as its deserving victim. This is Dorian’s final refusal to take responsibility for his actions, and his denial about his own predicament drives home Wilde’s larger thesis that people are to blame for their actions and moral shortcomings—not the objects, art or otherwise, that surround them.

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