The setting of the respective novel is essential for the overall development of the characters and the plot as it provides a foundation for the readers to visualize and understand the social as well as the psychological mindset and the typical behaviour during the era. It also sets the gothic mood and atmosphere for the readers as the setting provides an eerie-like ambiance since it was a time when black magic and witchcraft was well feared. Moreso, the setting produces clues as to what to expect in the novel which can be accomplished through referencing one’s historical knowledge regarding the time period. The Picture of Dorian Gray was set around the 19th century also known as the Victorian era, specifically the year 1890 in London, England—a period of time when famine, poverty and even racism such as slavery were at an all-time high, while the wealthy almost did absolutely nothing but to continue on with being rich. Though, the beautiful protagonist Dorian Gray, contradicts from the typical low class family at the time since he was born in a rich, wealthy and luxurious family. He was able to afford and sustain his lavish lifestyle through his father’s money, specifically to support his luxurious entertainment being the highest forms of art—may it be paintings, operas, novels and music—which he glorifies so much, but his love for the arts would later cause an irony as it will be the one that would generate his inevitable downfall. Moreover, poverty was visible in the novel; depicted through women using their body in exchange for money, as well as the immense difference between the prosperous West End which consists of well known places where the riches of the rich hangout, such as “Grosvenor square” and “Curzon street” while on the other hand, the East End which consists of underprivileged citizens and was described by the author
as “a black web of some sprawling spider”. The quotation provides an imagery for the readers to comprehend the dirty, fearful and filthy environment of how the East End looks like; more so, beyond the difference of classes which was represented by the West and East ends, the division of the setting also reflects Dorian’s behaviour. Each ends parallels Mr. Dorian’s two-faced persona. The West End signifies Dorian Gray’s brilliant side, a man who enjoys the arts and is admired by many, while the East End represents the young man’s evil character who commits inhumane immoral acts.
The protagonist of the novel being Dorian Gray is a young man whom most would consider in our society as extremely beautiful; though, his intense desire to stay young and handsome has led him to be corrupt to the point that he’s willing to sell his soul to the devil, to which in return for his non-aging good look, has ultimately produces chains of supernatural events beyond the scientific understanding nor the natural state of nature, conclusively establishing the gothic elements of the novel which adherence to his immoral acts of killing the innocent lives of others as well as his inevitable demise. The youthful Dorian Gray was once innocent and naive, but due to the wrongful guidance of the manipulative Lord Henry, it negatively influenced him to live a morally wrongful life of having such a hedonistic mindset; only caring for one’s youth and beauty while ignoring the struggles of others in the society, as well as neglecting the essential elements of having a genuine life such as being kind and compassionate to others. In addition, his eagerness and longing for a life-time youthfulness and beauty constructed his development towards immortality, in which he exchanges his life for, causing his soul to be trapped in a piece of painting of himself. Moreover, Lord Henry has severely instilled the importance of outer image in Dorian’s head, ultimately altering and reshaping his beliefs, morals and views in life which highlights his distorted judgement. Lord Henry further tarnish Dorian’s mindset about the significance of beauty, he stated, “Yes, Mr. Gray, the gods have been good to you. But what the gods give they quickly take away. You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully. When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to content yourself with those means triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats” (Wilde 27). Lord Henry’s input of Dorian’s physical appearance has reshaped Dorian Gray’s intense obsession for his beauty. Dorian’s desire to have a flawless outer facade further manifests his character to be overly ambitious which consequently caused his downfall, leading him to be prone to all sorts of diseases and illnesses. Moreover, Dorian Gray’s longing to maintain his physical appearance overstrips his intuition to be righteous.
The respective novel is in the point of view of an anonymous third person who has an exclusive insight on every character’s internal thoughts, mindset, feelings and perspective; therefore, such credible ability to read each individual’s minds and personal motives, as well as to fully understand the environmental state or tensions surrounding the characters, establishes the omniscient narrator’s reputation as fair, trustworthy and dependable. The narrator’s ability to know almost everything provides a perspective for the readers to analyze the genuine intentions of the characters without the other characters of the novel fully understanding what one is feeling, it ultimately makes the readers as analytical thinkers as it has an effect on one’s imagination; almost as if it’s forcing the audience to create their own personal assumptions concerning the characters of the novel. It also enables the audience to fully comprehend and understand what is going on, which causes them to be more engaged throughout the literature. Moreover, through the usage of a third person point of view, the readers were able to be aware of every aspect of the play.
The setting of the novel being the nineteenth century is a way to introduce that the novel is in fact gothic, as such literature was becoming a trend during the Victorian era. The way the narrator describes certain places through the usage of pessimistic and gloomy words was one of the essential elements that has successfully influence the plot to establish its genre as gothic, an example for this would be the room in which Dorian would be locked up in when he was young, ultimately causing his flashbacks regarding his traumatizing childhood. The novel also includes the presence of a demonic character which is depicted through the character of Lord Henry Wotton. Lord Henry was a wicked man of manipulation, leading the innocent Dorian Gray to commit inhumane acts, especifically murder. He also gave a gift to the naive youngman a venomous yellow book, which Mr. Gray would read religiously as if its his holy bible, completely dominating and influencing his ways of life. The symbolism of the yellow book is the potential damage art can do to a vulnerable individual when one is easily and heavily influenced by it. When Dorian Gray wanted to keep his beauty, he stated in the novel “I would give my soul […]”. Dorian communicating or bargaining with the devil by surrendering his soul for the sake of an immortal youthfulness and beauty shows another important piece of a gothic element which further contributes to the plot as the demon itself has essentially became a character of its own in the novel. Moreover, a women in distress is also a major material in the respective novel. Sibyl Vane and Dorian Gray has completely fallen in love with each other; though, Dorian’s love for her was external, he only loved her for her beauty. He described Sibyl as “a little flower-like face, a small Greek head with plaited coils of dark brown hair, eyes that were violet wells of passion.” Through analyzing the quote, one can say that Dorian Gray only described Mrs. Vane’s physical appearance, not her personality, which further concludes his supposedly love for her was only lust. The abusive romantic relationship of Sibyl and Dorian was tragically short, as she later killed herself.
The author being alive during the Victorian era has immensely influenced and affected his way of living as he has been exposed to the negativity of the time period; therefore, he uses the novel as a way to divulge and reveal the hidden barbaric features of it. The respective novel consists of multiple arrays of themes concerning our societies social issues that are still relevant even up to this day. The theme also touches upon the subject of human nature and its vile qualities. Specific themes regarding social issues that were explicitly visible in the novel are: classism which were exhibited and depicted by how the narrator describes the differences and boundaries between the rich East End and the poor West End, sexism or prejudice against women who were described in the novel as simply a charming necessity whose job is to provide sexual pleasure to men, and the conscious ignorance of not providing aid for those who are in need, especially the poor. They would rather exploit and use those who are underprivileged to further maintain their wealth. Other themes that were explored regarding the selfish side of human nature are: how individuals see more of an importance and value to one’s external appearance and physical attractiveness than one’s internal and genuine beauty, how manipulation can negatively influence the mindset of those who are vulnerable, specifically the youth, ultimately leading and reshaping them to be corrupt in one’s society, and how committing evil acts can only provide temporary pleasure and would later cause one’s downfall.
The major conflict of the novel is depicted by the devil-like character of Lord Henry who majorly influenced Dorian Gray’s stance in terms of the value beauty and youthfulness possess, as well as the power it contains. Dorian’s best feature, which is his beauty, is also the cause of the diminishment of his moral which establishes his arrogant persona, as his mindset to having good looks holds more worth in his mind, in which it overstrips his desire of having internal beauty, due to his selfish fear of losing the current pleasure he’s experiencing in which he gains through using his physical appearance. Dorian Gray’s obsession for immortal beauty establishes his major conflict in the novel. His outer facade does not parallel with his
characteristics, behaviour and attitude, ultimately causing his demise, an example for this is the way he psychologically abused, mistreated and used Sibyl Vine, his once lover, which she later killed herself. When Dorian Gray was arguing with Sibyl, he stated “You have killed my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect. I loved you because you were marvellous, because you had genius and intellect, because you realised the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away. You are shallow and stupid.” Dorian’s diction highlights his mistreatment to Sibyl, which is essential to understanding on why she committed suicide, as his ignorant and cruel behaviour has immensely attributed to her decision. Other conflict that caused Dorian his reputation’s downfall is his need to feel and be superior to others. His toxic and obsessive personality trait had influenced his immoral decisions, consequently tarnishing his one’s innocent and well-admired reputation, ultimately leading him to sell his soul to the painting as it might produce happiness, though, his desperation to obtain happiness from the form of looks has generated and led to his miserable state of mind.
The novel exhibits multiple literary devices which produces a double entendre, ultimately developing the literal and figurative meaning of the texts. Lord Henry was a walking allusion throughout the novel as he references a religious belief, specifically the devil, which he conveyed through his diabolical acts of manipulation and evil dictions. Symbolism and allegories were also essential for the development of the plot of the novel as there was a collection of them. May it be the yellow book which signifies Dorian’s intense obsession over such a physical object to the point that it’s affecting how he lives. The yellow book is also a symbol of Lord Henry’s intense control and manipulation over Dorian as he was the one who gave him the book, ultimately leading him to be so addictive which makes the book’s contents as his ideal lifestyle. Dorian Gray’s painting of himself is a living allegory as it is a visual image of Dorian’s soul and inner self in which he exchange for immortal beauty and youth, it also get tarnished everytime he commit something immoral almost as if it is its own character in the novel. The importance and the significance of the painting is gained through the narrator’s diction. He, she or they stated “This portrait would be to him the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul”. The quote further highlights how the painting portrays Dorian’s inner self: his characteristics, attitudes, behavior and mindset, which the painting turns ugly as it parallels who he truly is on the inside. These examples of figurative language and literary devices helps the readers connect to the storyline to further understand and enjoy the plot.