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The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Picture of Dorian Gray

author  Oscar Wilde

type of work  Novel

genre  Gothic; philosophical; comedy of manners

language  English

time and place written  1890, London

date of first publication  The first edition of the novel was published in 1890 in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. A second edition, complete with six additional chapters, was published the following year.

publisher The 1891 edition was published by Ward, Lock & Company.

narrator  The narrator is anonymous.

point of view  The point of view is third person, omniscient. The narrator chronicles both the objective or external world and the subjective or internal thoughts and feelings of the characters. There is one short paragraph where a first-person point of view becomes apparent; in this section, Wilde becomes the narrator.

tone  Gothic (dark, supernatural); sardonic; comedic

tense  Past

setting (time)  1890s

setting (place)  London, England

protagonist  Dorian Gray

major conflict  Dorian Gray, having promised his soul in order to live a life of perpetual youth, must try to reconcile himself to the bodily decay and dissipation that are recorded in his portrait.

rising action  Dorian notices the change in his portrait after ending his affair with Sibyl Vane; he commits himself wholly to the “yellow book” and indulges his fancy without regard for his reputation; the discrepancy between his outer purity and his inner depravity surges.

climax  Dorian kills Basil Hallward.

falling action  Dorian descends into London’s opium dens; he attempts to express remorse to Lord Henry; he stabs his portrait, thereby killing himself.

themes  The purpose of art; the supremacy of youth and beauty; the surface nature of society; the negative consequences of influence

motifs  The color white; the picture of Dorian Gray; homoerotic male relationships

symbols  The opium den; James Vane; the yellow book

foreshadowing  The illegitimacy of Sibyl and James, as well as Sibyl’s portrayal of Juliet from Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet, foreshadow the doomed nature of Sibyl’s relationship with Dorian Gray.