Notes on The Picture of Dorian Gray Themes

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The Picture of Dorian Gray Topic Tracking: Conscience/Soul

Chapter 1

Conscience/Soul 1: Basil believes that the way people could see his soul would not be to look at him, but rather to look at his best work, the painting of Dorian. He put all of himself into it, and fears that a person could look at the painting and know everything about him.

Chapter 7

Conscience/Soul 2: Dorian, as well as Basil, believes that this painting holds the secret to their respective souls, and neither wants the picture to be seen. Dorian is afraid even to look at it himself, for he does not like what he sees; he has made a mistake, and as a result his "soul" has gotten uglier. He can look at the painting to judge what kind of person he is, and he does not want to see that much.

Chapter 8

Conscience/Soul 3: Dorian decides to use the painting as his conscience; since it tells him how good or bad his soul is, he will be able to look at it as a reminder that he should be good. Without the painting as a reminder that he has done wrong, he might not have decided to go back to Sibyl. Seeing a reflection of his soul, however, has prompted him to do the right thing and marry Sibyl regardless of the pain she has put him through; he cannot bear the idea that his soul is ugly.

Conscience/Soul 4: Dorian's plans to be good have been ruined; he cannot marry Sibyl, and it is apparent that the painting knew this before he did. He has an opportunity to take this as a blessing in his life, and relish the youth and beauty that he has been given indefinitely. He realizes that he can do whatever he wants and he will still be beautiful; he can ignore the conscience and watch the corruption of his soul as it happens. This will afford him a sort of pleasure, knowing that everyone around him will grow old and he will not; his soul may suffer, but his outward appearance will not.

Chapter 12

Conscience/Soul 5: Basil is under the impression that evil is always evident on a person's face, and thus cannot believe that Dorian is evil. He is too innocent-looking to be evil. He is right, in a way, that evil always shows; in this case, however, Dorian's soul has been transferred to the painting. Looking at the painting, one would know instantly that the subject is evil.

Conscience/Soul 6: Basil has seen Dorian's soul in the painting, and begs Dorian to turn back and be good again. Dorian does not know where his hatred for Basil comes from in the next instant. We can see that Basil is acting as Dorian's conscience in this scene; Dorian is used to being able to cover his conscience with a curtain and hide it, and when it suddenly has a voice, the urge to silence it, just as he has been able to silence the portrait, takes over.

Chapter 19

Conscience/Soul 7: Lord Henry's offhand comment about losing one's soul affects Dorian deeply; at the outset of this adventure, Dorian had previously thought that the soul does not matter, as long as one has pleasure. But now he realizes that it has profited him very little to gain all of the material wealth and hedonistic pleasure of the world, at the expense of having and ugly and evil soul. He feels very strongly about this and tells Lord Henry that the soul is not something to be taken lightly. He wishes he had treated it with more reverence when he was truly young and when his soul was still pure.

Conscience/Soul 8: Just as he destroyed Basil when he was acting as his conscience, Dorian is filled with rage at the painting for ruining his life. There is a strong parallel between Dorian's murder of Basil and his murder of the portrait; he kills the art and the artist, and in doing so kills himself. Basil put his soul into the painting, as he told Lord Henry in the first scene, and because the painting became Dorian's soul, Basil, the painting and Dorian were inextricably linked. There is no way to destroy the painting without destroying Dorian as well.

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