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.