As a rule, he is charming to me, and we sit in the studio and talk of a thousand things. Now and then, however, he is horribly thoughtless, and seems to take a real delight in giving me pain. Then I feel, Harry, that I have given away my whole soul to some one who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer’s day.
Basil describes his friend Dorian Gray to Lord Henry. This exchange takes place before Lord Henry, or readers, meet Dorian Gray. Dorian has not yet become consumed by his own vanity. However, Basil sees signs in Dorian that foreshadow a cruel disposition towards evil.
He stood there motionless and in wonder, dimly conscious that Hallward was speaking to him, but not catching the meaning of his words. The sense of his own beauty came on him like a revelation. He had never felt it before.
The narrator describes the moment Dorian first sees the portrait of himself that Basil painted. Although Dorian likely knew he was handsome before seeing the painting, Basil’s expert rendition of him opens Dorian’s eyes to the power and influence that comes with youth and beauty.
I am jealous of everything whose beauty does not die. I am jealous of the portrait you have painted of me. Why should it keep what I must lose?
Dorian explains to Basil and Lord Henry why his portrait upsets him. His immediate reaction to the portrait was to admire it. However, after recalling Lord Henry’s warning that he would not always have his looks and youth, this admiration was replaced with anger and jealousy. Dorian’s jealousy of the portrait shows his ever-increasing vanity, and the fact that his mind changed so quickly proves the power Lord Henry has over this thoughts and emotions.
Had he been cruel? It was the girl’s fault, not his. He had dreamed of her as a great artist, had given his love to her because he had thought her great. Then she had disappointed him. She had been shallow and unworthy. And yet a feeling of infinite regret came over him as he thought of her lying at his feet sobbing like a little child.
The narrator provides insight into Dorian’s thoughts and feelings as he reflects on Sibyl’s reaction to him breaking off their engagement. At this time, Dorian looks at his portrait and notices that “there was a touch of cruelty in the mouth.” He immediately dismisses the thought that he had been cruel to her. Under the tutelage of Lord Henry, he’s learned to take no responsibility for his actions towards others. However, his sense of regret here, and throughout the novel, shows he still has a moral compass.
And yet I must admit that this thing that has happened does not affect me as it should. It seems to me to be simply like a wonderful ending to a wonderful play. It has all the terrible beauty of a Greek tragedy, a tragedy in which I took a great part, but by which I have not been wounded.
Dorian explains to Lord Henry his reaction to learning of Sibyl’s suicide. While Dorian initially reacts with shock and sadness, the feelings quickly pass. Dorian wonders if his lack of grief makes him heartless. As if to answer his own question, Dorian reveals that he feels her death like a spectator at a play, largely unaffected by her loss. The reader notes the diminishing control of a sense of right and wrong in Dorian’s feelings.
He had always the look of one who had kept himself unspotted from the world. Men who talked grossly became silent when Dorian Gray entered the room. There was something in the purity of his face that rebuked them. His mere presence seemed to recall to them the memory of the innocence that they had tarnished. They wondered how one so charming and graceful as he was could have escaped the stain of an age that was at once sordid and sensual.
The narrator explains people’s reactions to seeing and meeting Dorian. Once Dorian stops aging due to his arrangement with the portrait, he lives with abandon, corrupted by vanity and Lord Henry’s philosophy. Dorian becomes the envy of many people he encounters in society. As people only see a young, handsome man, they never imagine him engaging in any immoral activity. However, the reader recognizes the dramatic irony of their assumptions.
On his return he would sit in front of the picture, sometimes loathing it and himself, but filled, at other times, with that pride of individualism that is half the fascination of sin, and smiling, with secret pleasure, at the misshapen shadow that had to bear the burden that should have been his own.
Here, the narrator describes how Dorian would go many weeks without looking at the painting, but occasionally look at it with both disgust and pleasure. His loathing of the portrait shows that he understands that in exchanging his soul for remaining forever youthful, he harms his soul and other people. However, he does not loathe it quite enough to try to repent for his sins.
Yet, after all, what did it matter to him? One’s days were too brief to take the burden of another’s errors on one’s shoulders. Each man lived his own life, and paid his own price for living it. The only pity was one had to pay so often for a single fault.
After Dorian goes to an opium den and sees Adrian Singleton, whose life Basil accused him of ruining, Dorian reflects on the truth of Basil’s accusation. He quickly rejects his impulse to care about Adam Singleton. He rationalizes that people have control of their own destinies, showing a lack of self-awareness of Lord Henry’s influence in his own life. As with Sibyl’s suicide, Dorian takes no responsibility for his actions.
“I have never searched for happiness. Who wants happiness? I have searched for pleasure.”
Here, Dorian answers the Duchess’s question about whether or not Lord Henry’s philosophy on life has made him happy. Although Dorian and Lord Henry seem to organize their daily lives around having the best experiences possible, Dorian makes a distinction between happiness and pleasure and admits his lack of interest in happiness as a goal. Dorian has seemingly eternal youth and beauty, and he still does not seem concerned he has forfeited true contentment with his way of living.