The Fall of Dorian Gray:
The Choices, Characters and Circumstances that Led to His Ruin
Some readers of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray may be able pinpoint the exact moment that signaled Dorian’s inevitable demise. However, it can be better argued that Dorian’s fall was neither inevitable nor foreshadowed by any single moment. There are several points in the novel where it is evident to the reader that Dorian is taking steps toward his own damnation, these steps are encouraged and influenced by not only his fellow characters, but also his own fate and family history.
Dorian’s family history hints to the reader that there is something unlucky about his fate. Dorian’s wealthy Grandfather, who raised him, did not consent to the marriage of Dorian’s parents. This led to both of his parents dying when he was less than a year old. Wilde described Dorian as the “son of Love and Death (Wilde 34.)”
The author makes several other comments throughout the novel regarding the importance of bloodlines and family history. In Chapter XI Dorian is walking through the halls of his estate, looking at the painting of his ancestors and he questions, “Had some strange poisonous germ crept from body to body till it had reached his own? (Wilde 111)” Dorian again mentions the influence and importance of bloodlines right before killing Basil. When the two are discussing the reputations of men in town, Dorian remarks, “With such blood as he has in his veins how could his record be clean? (Wilde 118)”
It is evident by the constant references in the novel that heritage and family history directly influence a person’s fate. This being the case, it is only rational to assume that from the beginning this “son of Love and Death” is unlikely to meet a happy ending. Yet, one cannot help but wonder how Dorian’s life would have been had he never met Basil and Lord Henry. It is unarguable that Henry is introduced to the reader as a much less compassionate character than Basil. After all, Wilde informs the reader that in regard to Dorian, Henry “would seek to dominate him (Wilde 34.)” And so it would appear throughout the novel that he is rather successful in significantly influencing the young man, particularly in the early part of the novel.
However, more than meeting Lord Henry, Dorian’s fall was related directly to the creation of the picture and Basil’s constant obsession with beauty. Lord Henry may have been the man to explain the temporality of beauty, but it was Basil that made Dorian feel its importance. Dorian became obsessed with the way he looked in the painting, so much so that he regarded it as the “real Dorian (Wilde 28.)” and cried hoping that his exterior would always remain beautiful and that the portrait would change to record the time and hardships he passed.
This wish or prayer, whether it had been fated or not, could not have taken place without Basil’s craftsmanship. Basil had admitted to putting a large part of himself in the painting, and admitted to Dorian years after the painting was completed, that he feared his own admiration of Dorian’s beauty was evident to those who viewed the picture. Granted, kindhearted Basil had no intentions of causing Dorian any harm, but it was he more than Henry or any other character in the book, with the exception of Dorian himself, that caused the eventual fall. Dorian held Basil accountable. He said to Basil before killing him,
You met me, flattered me, and taught me to be vain of my good looks. You introduced me to a friend of yours, who explained to me the wonder of youth, and you finished a portrait of me that revealed to me the wonder of beauty. In a mad moment, that, even now, I don’t know whether I regret or not, I made a wish, perhaps you would call it a prayer (Wilde 121.)
These lines are not only relevant in realizing Basil’s fault, but also in understanding who and what is most responsible for Dorian’s fall. It is Dorian himself. Even at this moment, right before killing his friend, Dorian is not sure whether or not he regrets the prayer he made. He quickly blames Basil, and even Henry, but never is he willing to fully assume any accountability.
At no point does he repent for the pain he has caused people around him, rather, he allows himself to continually get worse. Rumors fly about the city, and still he remains so youthful and innocent that he never really has to answer for any of the mistakes he makes. Dorian knew he could get away with anything in society, and his own spirit and conscience was not enough to keep him innocent. The portrait gave Dorian the opportunity to do things that would ultimately go unseen, yet it was his own evil heart that allowed him to do these evil things. It can even be said that this mischief gave him pleasure. As he looked at the changing painting and then at his face, comparing the two in chapter XI, “He grew more enamored of his own beauty, more and more interested in the corruption of his soul (Wilde 99.)”
Dorian had countless opportunities to repent. Once Lord Henry asked what he thought happened to Basil, Dorian responded he had no idea and went on to discuss with Henry the various possibility. When James Vane discovered Dorian in the Opium dens, Dorian lied and claimed to be too young to have known Sybil. His ultimate fall is a direct result, not of the work of others so much as his own damned fate and the choices he made allowing that fate to carry itself out.
He was obsessed with blaming other’s in his life. During the night he learned to Sibyl’s suicide he went to the Opera. He did not recognize himself as being accountable for the death of a girl he claimed to love and then left after she put on a poor show at the theatre. He did not even assume any grief over the loss, except to cry for a few minutes. When questioned by Basil why he would go to the Opera under such circumstances, he immediately got defensive and changed the subject. No one but Basil and Henry knew of his association with Sibyl and as long as no knew, it was as if it never happened. Guilt and morals for Dorian are only present as a reaction to societies judgments. If the judgments do not take place, he feels no inner remorse.
Dorian also recognized at one point that maybe he should go to Basil for help. He thought that perhaps, “Basil would have helped him to resist Lord Henry’s influence, and the still more poisonous influences that came from his own temperament (Wilde 93.)” This would have been a step toward progress, but instead of dealing with his faults he chose to eliminate the reminder of his own guilt.
Instead of repenting or working to try to do something good, in an attempt to change the face he chose to destroy it. He chose to destroy himself, his own soul, rather than to try to heal it. Dorian’s death was ultimately a suicide, and like many suicides, not a result of one incident that foreshadowed an inevitable fall, but rather it was caused by fate, bloodlines, the influences of others, and most of all, Dorian’s own choices.