An Interpretation of Dorian’s Death

After reflecting upon on our class discussion, I wanted to think more deeply about Dorian’s death at the end of the novel. The ambiguity surrounding this event is very interesting to me, and I would argue that Dorian is really committing suicide rather than attempting to destroy his painting. Lord Henry’s final words to Dorian really help to contextualize Dorian’s thought process at this critical moment in his life. He tells Dorian that “art has no influence upon action…, [and that] the books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” (163). This statement seems to refute much of the textual evidence (i.e., the painting whispering murderous ideas to Dorian) for the corrupting power of art, which was often suggested to originate from the power of the yellow book or the painting itself. This shift away from external corruption implies that the culpability for the dark deeds in the novel belongs to Dorian and his own misguided choices. Here, the word “books” could easily be replaced with “paintings,” and, in either case, the second clause would symbolize how the art form is merely reflecting the immorality of Dorian’s actions – not directly causing them. In this way, Dorian is confronted by the duty to take responsibility for his own actions, which he has been trying to avoid doing during the entire plot (i.e., he refers to Basil’s corpse as “that thing” to make the murder seem less real and personal). Later on, we see that Dorian “began to think over some of the things that Lord Henry had said,” so the fact that Dorian was reflecting on these ideas shows the reader that he is really grappling with guilt (164). As art “shows the world its own shame,” Dorian may have originally attempted to destroy his portrait (in another attempt to avoid responsibility) before it reminded him of his agency and culpability, which results in him stabbing a “knife in his [own] heart” (potentially) to finally punish himself for his crimes ( 167).

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