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.
The novel of course revolves around the portrait of Dorian but this is just one of the damaging surfaces that Wilde depicts. Characters’ identities and fates are entirely decided by their outward appearance. The owner of Sybil Vane’s theater is reduced to a collection of Jewish features and hideous mannerisms, as is his theater reduced to its shabby decor, and in turn it is all redeemed by the beautiful face of Sybil, who herself is putting on a costume. Veils of societal roles and costumes are worn by everybody in the novel and are made more fatal by the way the characters describe and stereotype each other, never letting each other escape from their narrow identities and appearances. To Lord Henry, even knowing Dorian’s sinful behavior, he remains the beautiful boy that he met in Basil’s studio because appearance always wins out.
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances ThemeTracker
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Quotes in The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mrs. Vane fixed her eyes on him, and intensified the smile. She mentally elevated her son to the dignity of an audience. She felt sure that the tableau was interesting.
“What a place to find one’s divinity in!”
“The painted scenes were my world. I knew nothing but shadows and thought them real.”
“So I have murdered Sybil Vane,” said Dorian Gray, half to himself, “murdered her as surely as if I had cut her little throat with a knife. Yet the roses are not less lovely for that.”
“One day, a fatal day I sometimes think, I determined to paint a wonderful portrait of you as you actually are, not in the costume of dead ages, but in your own dress and in your on time.”
It was a poisonous book. The heavy odour of incense seemed to cling about its pages and trouble the brain.
“She is very clever, too clever for a woman. She lacks the indefinable charm of weakness. It is the feet of clay that make the gold of the image precious.”
The coarse brawl, the loathsome den, the crude violence of disordered life, the very vileness of thief and outcast, were more vivid, in their intense actuality of impression, than all the gracious shapes of Art, the dreamy shadows of Song.
If the tapestry did but tremble in the wind, he shook. The dead leaves that were blown against the leaded panes seemed to him like his own wasted resolutions and wild regrets.
“It is not in you Dorian to commit a murder. I am sorry if I hurt your vanity by saying so, but I assure you it is true. Crime belongs exclusively to the lower orders. I don’t blame them in the smallest degree. I should fancy that crime was to them what art is to us, simply a method of procuring extraordinary sensations.”