The Picture of Dorian Gray

by: Oscar Wilde

Symbols

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Opium Dens

The opium dens, located in a remote and derelict section of London, represent the sordid state of Dorian’s mind. He flees to them at a crucial moment. After killing Basil, Dorian seeks to forget the awfulness of his crimes by losing consciousness in a drug-induced stupor. Although he has a canister of opium in his home, he leaves the safety of his neat and proper parlor to travel to the dark dens that reflect the degradation of his soul.

James Vane

James Vane is less a believable character than an embodiment of Dorian’s tortured conscience. As Sibyl’s brother, he is a rather flat caricature of the avenging relative. Still, Wilde saw him as essential to the story, adding his character during his revision of 1891. Appearing at the dock and later at Dorian’s country estate, James has an almost spectral quality. Like the ghost of Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, who warns Scrooge of the sins he will have to face, James appears with his face “like a white handkerchief” to goad Dorian into accepting responsibility for the crimes he has committed.

The Yellow Book

Lord Henry gives Dorian a copy of the yellow book as a gift. Although he never gives the title, Wilde describes the book as a French novel that charts the outrageous experiences of its pleasure-seeking protagonist (we can fairly assume that the book in question is Joris-Karl Huysman’s decadent nineteenth-century novel À Rebours, translated as “Against the Grain” or “Against Nature”). The book becomes like holy scripture to Dorian, who buys nearly a dozen copies and bases his life and actions on it. The book represents the profound and damaging influence that art can have over an individual and serves as a warning to those who would surrender themselves so completely to such an influence.