The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray


Oscar Wilde

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Themes and Colors
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
Women and Men Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Picture of Dorian Gray, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Mortality of Beauty and Youth

The trouble starts when Henry warns Dorian that his extraordinary beauty and youth will fade, and tells him to make the most of it. Dorian’s beauty is such that people are astonished by it and all of his advantages seem to come from it, even if he has got an interesting personality and wealth. With Henry’s words ringing in his ears, Dorian immediately views Basil’s portrait of him in a new light. Rather than…

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Surfaces, Objects and Appearances

Beauty is skin-deep in Dorian’s circle of friends. He is welcomed and adored because of his beautiful appearance and even when his sins ruin lives, he always has a certain power because of his attractiveness. Dorian is at his peak when he is unaware of his own beauty, but when conscious of it, his life becomes about surface and appearance. His taste for fashion grows; he loves tapestries and jewels, very flat, decorative objects.

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Art and the Imitation of Life

The novel opens with a theory of the purpose of art, which Wilde reasons out until he reaches that “all art is quite useless”. Whether or not this is some kind of warning from the narrator, we as readers don’t know, but what follows certainly seems to illustrate his point. It presents art in many forms and the danger of it when it is taken too literally or believed too deeply. It starts with a…

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The power of one to affect another is a theme that pervades the novel. At first, Basil is influenced by his model Dorian. On a personal level, he is confused and changed by his romantic feelings, but Dorian’s influence is also more far-reaching, actually seeming to change Basil's ability for painting, and to change the painting itself in an almost supernatural way. Influence here describes an almost chemical change that one can assign to…

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Women and Men

Lord Henry’s philosophies frequently criticize women and marriage, and the era of Dorian Gray’s London society, and indeed Oscar Wilde’s, becomes vivid to us in his dialogue. He says that women are a “decorative sex”, and that there are always only a few worth talking to. We see his marriage with Lady Victoria Wotton as a very separate affair, both parties leading distinct lives and meeting the other occasionally. When Victoria leaves him…

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