Published: 19-11-2019

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Dorian Gray's ending: Does Wilde end the book in ambiguity?

In Chapter 20 of The Image of Dorian Gray, Dorian is presented to us as a figure torn amongst reforming and alleviating himself from the sin and corruption he has perpetuated on other folks, and pursuing his exclamatory yearning for his “unsullied splendour of eternal youth” to return. Above all, the death of Dorian can only be interpreted by asserting his relationship to his portrait the “fatal picture”, in which Wilde’s diction suggests it serves as a brutal reminder for his deteriorating soul and his correct self, or as simply a symbol of a greater societal force on Dorian. Therefore, only with this can a single judge no matter whether Dorian truly died by murder, suicide or by accident.

At the starting of the chapter, Wilde makes use of pathetic fallacy to convey the “lovely night” which could coincide with Dorian’s inherent feeling of contentment and his ego-centricity and narcissism in regards to his relief that he is protected. This, is mirrored in previous parts of the novel, such as following James Vane’s death, exactly where Wilde bathetically recalls how Dorian’s “eyes filled with tears, for he knew he was safe”. The pleasing, opulent aristocratic setting of the “lovely night” echoes the synaesthesia previously utilised in Lord Henry’s lavishing “apricot-coloured” habitat, does mirror Dorian’s narcissism, but to a higher extent, the setting is oxymoronic against the sense of unease and underlying ennui in Dorian. As influenced by Lord Henry’s Hedonistic aphorisms and the “poisonous“ imagery epitomising the influence of the Yellow Book advocating a “complex, multiform creature”, he seeks to “search for new sensations” (an allusion to Pater’s Rennaissance). Nevertheless, Wilde’s deliberate repetitious use of the previous excellent tense and totally free indirect discourse in “He had often”, “she had believed” suggests Dorian’s remorse and apathy towards pursuing pleasure. This is noticed in his interaction with the girl whom he had “lured to love him” but told her he was “poor” and “wicked” implying how Dorian is on 1 hand atoning for perhaps a similar circumstance with Sybil by not corrupting the girl, as the imagery of the “thrush” echoes the “caged song-bird” that Dorian had been accountable for the suicide of. This possibly underlies Dorian’s guilt and longing to change, additional seen in the alliterative aphorism “There was purification in punishment” suggesting how Dorian wishes that every of his sins would’ve resulted in punishment. On the other hand, one particular could argue that his declare to the girl represents his desperation to start “A new life!”, therefore implying Dorian is torn but is a lot more inclined to ignore rather than face the consequences of his actions that will inevitability lead him to his death.

Additionally, Dorian’s connection with the portrait is paramount in regards to whether or not his death is murder, suicide or accident. Jonah Siegel argues, “Dorian’s death is significantly less a sign of moral failure, than an indication of the failure of his historicism.” Indeed, one particular can argue it is to a greater degree that Dorian’s growing loathing for his portrait to crush it into “silver splinters” represents the failure of his historicism. This arguable externalisation of Dorian’s conscience could mirror the Victorian society’s crushing judgement on Wilde himself, for getting a homosexual, and the hypocrisy prevalent in the 19th century that constructed itself on a façade of moral rectitude and piety with the “silver splinters” acting as the foundation of its vice, corruption and poverty. The sibilant image right here could symbolise how Dorian fails to realise that he can in no way go back to how he was, and the “silver splinters” can by no means be rebuilt. Nonetheless, I feel Dorian’s death is fully a sign of moral failure. His stabbing of the portrait was by no means meant to act as a divine retribution for his crimes, as he in no way knows that in undertaking what he does, it will destroy him. Therefore, Dorian’s death is a sign of moral failure, as he dies by way of trying to save himself, implying his narcissism that primarily led to the forming of his Faustian pact with his portrait, led him to his inexorable death.

It can be argued that Dorian’s death is triggered by Dorian’s disjunction amongst his inner and outer lives, and to what extent Dorian genuinely died or not. Andrew Smith exclaims, “Dorian’s death represents the inability to be authentic…and the failure to be artificial”. On 1 hand, Dorian fails to be “authentic” in the sense that, if the code of the vicarious flaneur like Lord Henry celebrates individualism (declaratively encapsulated in “the aim of live is self-development”), Dorian falters due to the fact he fails to establish and reside by his personal moral code. Moreover, it can be noticed that Dorian fails to be artificial, as he ceases to represent Art, remaining young and beautiful whilst his painting exhibits his corruption. Nevertheless, I disagree to an extent with Smith’s paradoxical criticism. In ‘The Decay of Lying’, Wilde stated, “Life imitates Art…life in reality tis the mirror, and Art the reality”. As a result, even although Dorian’s sin accrued in the portrait is not displayed by means of his appearance, such as Basil’s death and Sybil’s suicide, it remains exhibited via the portrait as the reality, and Dorian’s decisions and actions mirror this. This concept of Art acting as the reality mirroring life, was observed in Walter Sickett’s paintings conveying the cruelty of life as beauty, seen in his portrait allegedly identifying Jack the Ripper.

Lastly, it is disputable regardless of whether in Chapter 20, Dorian really dies. It can be argued that when Dorian exclaims: “His beauty had been to him but a mask”, the caveat “to him” suggesting an uncertainty, reiterating his torn nature at this portrait. It can be argued thereby the original Dorian without a mask was before he met Lord Henry and fell below his influence, encapsulated in the asyndetic “poisonous, fascinating, delightful theories” which is replete with oxymorons. Consequently in a sense Dorian’s beauty could act as a mask for his currently dying soul, for that reason he was in no way really himself when he died, merely playing just an aping of Lord Henry’s, “an echo of somebody else’s music”. In contrast, Wilde himself stated, “Give a man a mask, and he’ll inform the truth” implying Dorian’s beauty was the truth and was reality, so it was his accurate self that died.
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