One of the biggest outstanding questions I still have for The Picture of Dorian Gray is in regard to the end and what it all means. Where does this story leave us? What are we left with? When Dorian stabs his portrait, Dorian the man dies and the portrait reverts back to what Basil had initially painted. But what does that release signify? What does it mean for how we understand the relationship between Dorian and the portrait and who, of the two, was the real, or more real, entity? I asked this question in class and was really intrigued by the variety of different interpretations we all had — from postulating that Dorian was committing suicide to suggesting that this was his last displacement of responsibility for his actions onto the portrait. It is a compelling space to think about what the separation of body and soul means, and I’m inclined to think that in stabbing the portrait Dorian has released his soul from it, and in death at last body and soul were reunited.
Thinking more about the end, something about the very last paragraph of this story has always bothered me. It feels like less than it should be, somehow unfinished or at least unresolved, maybe a little spare compared to the rest of the text. After Dorian’s mad dash for the painting, the deep and twisting personal reflection that leads to the end, the sort of direct resolution of the text feels out of joint, or as if it hasn’t caught up with exactly what happened. Part of this effect comes from the fact that Dorian’s name is not to be found in the final paragraph. Dorian’s servants don’t find Dorian, they find “a dead man,” under a “portrait of their master.” (159) Even though we know who it is and that those that find the body eventually figure it out, Dorian himself seems sort of absent from these lines: “It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognised who it was” (159). That sentence, to me, feels like it’s missing its natural pair: It was Dorian Gray. Perhaps, the irresolution clues us further into the relationship between Dorian and the portrait, that the lack of identity at the very end suggests that neither the portrait or the man was anything at all, without the other.
One thought on “Dorian’s Final Moment”
I had a similar thought while reading the ending, but, at the same time, I really enjoy the ending because it feels so different from the rest of the story. It’s interesting that, once Dorian dies and his face actually holds his sin, he is no longer recognizable. I think that that emphasizes the connection between the portrait and Dorian himself. Even when Dorian is dead, people identify the portrait but not Dorian himself. The portrait is recognizable precisely because it does not depict Dorian’s sin.
In a way, Dorian never faces his corruption–at least he doesn’t experience it publicly. The only people who know about what the portrait once held are dead, and everyone else assumes that the portrait is as it always was. That means that he dies with his secret safe.
I think that the reason the final paragraph is so unlike the rest of the text is that it’s from a different perspective. The bulk of the story has been told through the eyes of a person who knows the ins and outs of Dorian’s life. It’s not Dorian’s perspective, but the narrator knows what Dorian goes through and how his brain works. The final paragraph seems to be from the perspective of characters in the story who discover Dorian’s body. Dorian’s life has ended so the narrator we have grown accustomed to can no longer tell us the story as they have because the story as it has existed is no more. Instead, we are left with a completely outsider perspective that is forced to reckon with what they have seen without understanding it. That reflects the audience’s experience because we do not know what the ending means but are forced to consider it.