1) Dorian Gray – Begins as a blank slate, then influenced by Lord Henry to consider his beautiful form (that of an Adonis), he develops a narcissistic character which is emphasised by his painting and the continual influence of Lord Henry, his pursuit of pleasure and sin is a great cause of anguish, he attempts to “repent towards the end of the novel but it is far too late. Can be seen as both the hero and the villain of the novel, showing that the two concepts aren’t wholly separate and are in fact very close to each other, almost intertwined as the character is considered good and evil.
Lord Henry – Almost a Mephistopheles style character (Faustus), he doesn’t appear to change at all throughout the novel in terms of what he believes and how he treats other people. However, the social analysis which he conducts appears from a reader’s perspective appears to become more of an unrealistic fantasy throughout the novel, he convinces Dorian to pursue beauty and enjoyment over dignity.
Basil Hallward – Artist, homosexual who idealises Dorian as a figure of purity, youth and beauty, almost a maternal figure to Dorian and this is almost his downfall as he can’t see anything wrong with Dorian right up until the end where he is finally told the truth about the evil nature of Dorian. He’s a very religious figure and this is shown in Chapters 12/13 as he is almost a priest-like figure, Dorian tells him (confesses) what he is really like before he murders him.
2) Relationships with Dorian Gray:
Sybil Vane – His first victim, also his first lover, becomes a symbol of innocence inspiring change in Dorian.
James Vane – Contingent victim of Dorian, potential killer, humanises Dorian in a way, suffered through an/protagonist.
Gladys – Potential lover, there to help argue about Henry, prove his argument isn’t correct, shows growth of Dorian begun to appreciate more intelligence, greater maturity of character.
The idea of something being tragic and something being a tragedy can indeed be seen as different. To look at the idea of the difference between the two, we actually have to go and look at Educating Rita, a play written by Willy Russell in 1980 and now performed worldwide (I should know, I’m actually studying this particular play in preparation for my own Drama AS Level performance). Now, you may ask, what relevance does this actually have to The Picture of Dorian Gray?. Well, Dorian Gray can be seen as a tragedy, very much like a Macbeth or even a Faustus. In Act 1 Scene 5 of Educating Rita, we see young Rita approach Frank having just gone to see her first play, Macbeth. The following passage enlightens us as to what actually is a tragedy and how we can separate “tragedy” and “tragic”.
” Rita: I’m goin’ to. Macbeth’s a tragedy, isn’t it?
Frank: Yes it is.
Rita: Right. Well, I just – I just had to tell someone who’d understand.
Frank: I’m honoured that you chose me.
Rita: I better get back. I’ve left a customer in the shop. If I don’t get a move on there’ll be another tragedy.
Frank: No. There won’t be a tragedy.
Rita: There will, y’know. I know this woman, she’s dead fussy. If her lo’lights don’t come out right there’ll be blood and guts everywhere.
Frank: Which might be quite tragic – but it won’t be a tragedy.
Frank: Well – erm – look; the tragedy of the drama has nothing to do with the sort of tragic event you’re talking about. Macbeth is flawed by his ambition – yes?
Rita: Yeh. Go on.
Frank: Erm – it’s that flaw which forces him to take the inevitable steps towards his own doom. You see? Whereas, Rita, a woman’s hair being ruined, or – or the sort of thing you read in a paper that’s reported as being tragic “Man killed by a falling tree, that’s not a tragedy.
Rita: It is for the poor sod under the tree.
Frank: Yes, it’s tragic, absolutely tragic. But it’s not a tragedy in the way that Macbeth is a tragedy. You see, in dramatic terms, tragedy is something that this absolutely inevitable, preordained almost. Now, look, even without ever having even heard the story of Macbeth you wanted to shout out, to warn him and prevent him going on, didn’t you? But you wouldn’t have been able to stop him, would you?
Frank: And why is that?
Rita: ‘Cos they would have thrown me out of the theatre.
Frank: No no no no, what I mean is that your warning would have been ignored. He’s warned in the play, constantly warned. But he can’t go back. He still treads the path to doom. But, you see, the poor old fellow under the tree hasn’t arrived there by following inevitable steps, has he?
Frank: There’s no particular flaw in his character that has dictated his end. If he’d been warned of the consequences of standing beneath that particular tree he wouldn’t have done it, would he? Understand?
Rita: So…. So, Macbeth brings it on himself?
Frank: Yes! You see, he goes blindly on and on and with every step he’s spinning one more piece of thread which will eventually make up the own network of his own tragedy. You see that?”
You see? It’s simple really, the tragic element is that the character doesn’t see the inevitable path they are taking towards the end, the person doesn’t see the network of the tragedy that they are creating until it is all too late. This is what happens in Dorian Gray, he doesn’t realise the path that he is taking and when he does he tries to change but it is too late and he eventually ends up wrestling his demons right until the end where he stabs his painting and he dies.
Extract included from: Act 1 Scene 5 of Educating Rita by Willy Russell (1980)
What does Hetty represent to Dorian? How does Lord Henry interpret Dorian’s actions?
Hetty Merton is the young woman with whom Dorian has a brief romance towards the end of the novel. Hetty can be seen as extremely significant to Dorian towards the end of the novel as she shows that despite all that has happened, Dorian still has the hope of redemption before he dies, she shows to him that he can still love and that perhaps there is a slim opportunity of him actually escaping the fate that the bargain he made so many years ago appeared to be pointing him towards before that point. Dorian refrains from being with her and corrupting her in an attempt to begin living a good life and to purify his soul. Lord Henry sees Dorian’s actions as childish, making a mockery of what Dorian tells him about Hetty. “isn’t floating at the present moment in some star-lit millpond…like Ophelia.” Appears to display that Lord Henry has knowledge of Dorian and has seen him “in love” before, like with Sybil Vane. Perhaps the reference to Ophelia from Hamlet is an indirect reference to Sybil, Hetty does remind Dorian of Sybil and of the characters she used to play on stage like Ophelia in Hamlet who reminds Dorian of the tragic death that Sybil suffered.
How does Lord Henry react to Dorian’s claim that he was poisoned by a novel?
Lord Henry, in reaction to Dorian telling him that he was “poisoned” by a novel, lectures Dorian about Art and Literature. “Art has no influence upon an action” appears to suggest that Lord Henry believes no book can hold such power over a gentleman like Dorian, this can be considered as ironic in that Lord Henry himself appears to have had a strong influence over Dorian through his teachings, while there was no intention from Lord Henry to make Dorian evil in comparison to him, it could be argued that he has had a strong influence in Dorian’s beliefs. There appears to be something rather seductive in his observation “the world calls immoral… books that show the world its own shame”, Lord Henry’s words appear to be less convincing than other statements to the same effect which he makes earlier on in the novel, almost as though his own philosophy has become his downfall as his naive nature has led him to influence Dorian into becoming this evil figure and that the consequences of his own teachings have eluded him thus far, something that appears abundantly clear to everyone else apart from Lord Henry.
Why does Lord Henry mention the biblical quotations? How does Dorian respond to the quotations?
Lord Henry mentions the biblical quotations following his observation of “a little crowd of shabby-looking people listening to the same man yelling”. Lord Henry almost admires these people and appears to begin to question the power of having everything apart from a soul. In a way, Lord Henry may be questioning Dorian. Dorian does have everything, being wealthy and beautiful. Perhaps Lord Henry in his own way is rather envious and jealous of Dorian, beginning to question if he has a soul or not. Dorian responds to the biblical quotations by attempting to move the subject away from the topic of the soul, “Don’t, Harry. The soul is a terrible thing” appears to show that Dorian is actually afraid of any talk of the soul, therefore he will want to avoid it. Dorian clearly knows the power of the soul better than any of the other characters in the novel, something that is reflected in the statement “there is a soul in each of us, I know it”, perhaps alluding to the poisoned soul that he has following all of his wrongdoing.
Look back at chapters 1 and 2. How does Lord Henry’s ideas in chapter 19 compare to his ideas in chapters 1 and 2? Are there any changes?
While Dorian Gray clearly undergoes a massive change in the novel, Lord Henry appears to be a rather static character in the novel. He doesn’t undergo a significant change in the novel and remains cool, composed, unshakable and witty in the final pages of the novel. However, our perception of Lord Henry and his philosophy does appear to change throughout the novel, while the philosophy does appear to be rather enticing in the first half of the novel, in the second half of the novel the philosophy seems unlikely, shallow and rather untrue. For example, in Chapter 19 Lord Henry claims there are no immoral books, believing that “the books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.” However, this would contradict the book that Lord Henry sent Dorian earlier on in the novel which actually appeared to lead Dorian to his own downfall.
Dorian and Basil are both seen as being quite romantic with both of them seeing marriage as being a life long commitment, something that is an “irreconcilable vow”. In a way, Basil Hallward is almost reflecting Dorian Gray’s view as a way of grabbing attention away from Lord Henry as he knows that Lord Henry appears to almost rubbish the concept of marriage being a commitment, therefore disagreeing greatly with Dorian on the concept of marriage. The idea that Lord Henry has of marriage is reflective of that of the classic upper class view of marriage and women, seeing them as almost disposable which is reflected in his own marriage which is loveless and superficial as they both appear to love other people more than each other. Perhaps he is almost jealous of Dorian Gray’s happiness and Sybil Vane, clearly he wants to make Dorian happy and he wants Dorian’s love, in this, he almost shares knowledge from his own experience that Dorian’s love for Sybil will soon disappear.
In this chapter, Sybil is presented as the male character Rosalind, perhaps almost an image of boyhood. This idea of the character Rosalind is almost showing Dorian’s homosexual nature in that he loves the character she is acting out and portraying, he never cares to mention the name Sybil, only mentioning the names of the characters that she plays such as Juliet or Rosalind. He appears to be attracted particularly by the male character of Rosalind and proposes to Sybil, almost as though this character is who he sees instead of her. In this way, Wilde is foreshadowing the conclusion of the novel where we eventually see Dorian fall in love with himself more than anyone else.
The relationship between Sybil and Dorian can be seen as quite unpredictable, dramatic and quite infantile, almost as though these are two kids growing up and this is their first love like in Romeo and Juliet, however, sadly, we can see the element of tragedy from the beginning with the painting. Dorian’s and Sybil’s love would not have been approved by the elite which surrounded Dorian in particular, he would be marrying underage and would be seen as marrying far beneath himself. The relationship between these two almost reflects the sense of Romeo and Juliet in that we can all see the tragedy coming.
Towards the end of the chapter, we see Basil Hallward as being excluded from the centre of Dorian’s life, with Lord Henry almost taking over from him. Basil is seeing the influence of Lord Henry shine through on Dorian and it’s almost as though Basil is losing a sense of love as he realises that Dorian loves Lord Henry and Sybil Vane more than him, in this, we see Basil begin to grow older inside and crying on the outside, almost as though he knows he is doomed to spend the rest of his days alone.
At the beginning of this chapter we see the Jew described as outwardly horrible, “and had been met by Caliban” is a reference to the preface where Caliban is seen as ugly and the daughter of witchcraft. We receive the impression that Lord Henry likes him, partially down to the corrupt and sinister nature of him. While now this would be seen as highly anti-Semitic, back then this would have been the common view of Jews as greedy or sinister. The reaction of Dorian to the theatre is that of disgust, seeing it as vulgar and seedy, the same reasons for which Lord Henry loves the theatre, he seems to find this life fascinating, while Dorian appears to talk about poor people in a derogatory way, Lord Henry finds himself fascinated by this place.
Basil acts as though he is the maternal figure in Dorian’s life once more in that he is extremely supportive and understanding of what Dorian has done. “Any one you love must be marvellous” giving the impression of Basil being that figure of support to Dorian. Meanwhile, Henry initially views Sybil in a lustful way, he sees her in an aesthetic way as he looks at her with lustful eyes. In this, he clearly wants to corrupt her and he wants to know how to corrupt her. The significance of the play itself, Romeo and Juliet is that is almost echoes the love between Dorian and Sybil, they are both young and they both appear to be leading on this tragic path, the love is anti-establishment and is largely not approved by those around them, much like in Romeo and Juliet where the two young lovers appear to have no encouragement or support from the people around them.
The significance of Lord Henry’s reaction to Sybil’s performance is significant in that it appears to shape Dorian’s view on what she has done. “They are both simply forms of imitation” reflects an idea that love is an imitation of who you are and that acting is an imitation of life, this appears to break Dorian’s heart and finally push him over the edge, having a temper tantrum in the middle of the theatre. Basil’s reaction to the performance is much more supportive, like any maternal mother, he appears to want to reassure Dorian, “Love is a more wonderful thing than art” almost gives him the tone of reassurance that it doesn’t matter how she acted. Sybil herself views her performance as a deliberate act, she is clearly doing this because she has fallen in love, she cannot pretend to kiss other men when she herself is in love with Dorian, she was happy that she was hissed and she did it as she felt that to play at love was an insult.
Dorian reacts to Sybil’s interpretation of her acting with spite and anger, “a shudder ran through him” shows that he has fallen out of love with Sybil and is almost showing his homosexual side in that the concept of Sybil to him is something that is repulsive. He acts in a callous, cold manner and presents to her a scathing reality of how he feels after her performance. To put it simply, he had only loved the characters she was playing, he had never loved Sybil nor indeed really known the actual Sybil. Following the theatre, he went to Covent Garden and then home where he saw the painting that Basil Hallward had painted him, something that was significant at this point as the painting had begun to age, this first sign of ageing managed to scare Dorian into believing that every time he sinned and listened to Lord Henry, his painting would age further, therefore, he swore another oath which was to resist temptation and committed himself to getting Sybil back (“try to love her”) because of a sense of duty coming from the Victorian sense of responsibility. The ending of the chapter is significant in that he swears his oath in what is basically the Garden of Even, however, like Adam and Eve, he would eventually go against his word and would sin.
At the beginning of Chapter 3 we are introduced to Lord Henry’s uncle, “a genial if somewhat rough-mannered old bachelor” shows him to be a rather selfish uncle to Lord Henry. We later find out that he had two large town houses but that he preferred to live in chambers. We also find that he’s rather flippant in terms of politics, supporting the Tories unless when they are in office which makes him criticise them strongly. We find soon after this that Lord Henry has a rather selfish attitude towards money, he believes that “when they grow older they know it” is a reference to money and his belief that money is very much everything. In this he tries to “borrow” money from his uncle as he hasn’t paid his bills, he appears to also have the need to know everything.
In this chapter we find out that Dorian Gray’s parents really did shape who he was in terms of appearance and character. His beauty came from his mother, Lady Margaret Devereux who was a beautiful person in appearance, however, she was seen to be rather delicate and hysterical, eventually running off with a “penniless young fellow, a mere nobody”. We don’t find out a great deal about his father, only that he died in a duel at Spa at quite a young age, his mother dying within a year of this.
In this Chapter there are references to America and indeed a conversation about America as a country. The aristocracy see it as “rather fashionable to marry Americans” as “American girls are clever at concealing their parents, as English women are at concealing their past”. There is an element of discrete racism, why can’t they stay in their “own country”, “she behaves as if she was beautiful”. Perhaps this attitude is almost that of jealousy, America as this time was beginning to emerge as a world power with more people moving to America from Europe and the continent becoming a larger force in terms of manufacturing.
We also see that Dorian is almost a fascination for Lord Henry, “must be a good-looking chap” showing that there is an admiration of Dorian and his beauty. At the same time, we find that the aristocracy are almost in an isolated bubble and are detached from society, they appear to have a biased ignorance in their opinions towards America and don’t seem to know much in terms of what is going on in America, they seem prejudiced and unaware of the truth about America. Lord Henry provides advice to the group to “Repeat your follies” which could be seen as sins, Dorian Gray actually takes this advice which Lord Henry would never have imagined.
Ultimately, the final statement of the chapter is rather significant as he invites Dorian to look at life through the eyes of him in this useless activity of the upper classes, they are both going to look at people in the park quite simply to be social, meaning that Dorian would finally see life through the eyes of Lord Henry.
At the beginning of this chapter we are introduced to Lord Henry’s house with a detailed description by Wilde. We see Dorian reclining in one of the chairs perhaps reflecting that he is very comfortable in this environment. However, when Lord Henry’s wife enters, we begin to see the cracks in Lord Henry’s marriage. We see that this marriage is disappointing and superficial in that Lord Henry cheats on her, perhaps showing that in fact the couple haven’t married for love, instead they have married for status, power and wealth.
Following the conversation between Dorian and Lady Henry, Dorian talks to Lord Henry about the new love of his life, an actress called Sibyl Vane. The idea of this woman being an actress would have been shocking in itself, Dorian would have been in love with someone far beneath himself like his mother. The backstreet actress would probably have only been there for sex and to look good, she would be seen as superficial with no character and empty. When Dorian talks about the first time he saw her, he gives a negative, almost derogatory description of the Jewish man outside the theatre, almost giving an impression that Dorian was ashamed to enter the theatre that night.
However, when Dorian speaks of his first meeting with Sybil, we discover that these two are actually quite alike in some ways, both are very infantile, both are physically beautiful and both are very childlike in the way they act, however, there are differences, for example, their wealth and their backgrounds are both very different. We also discover that Dorian’s attitude to Basil has changed, he appears to see him as a bit of a “philistine”, however, at the same time, he still appears to argue with Lord Henry about marriage, perhaps showing that he hasn’t fully changed his character yet.
As for Lord Henry, he is amused by Dorian Gray’s new love, this creates a new fascination as there is a new factor in Dorian Gray’s life which could affect the outcome, in this way, Dorian is almost like a scientific experiment which Lord Henry is casting his eye over. However, as we approach the end of the chapter, the scenery changes as the danger of the outside world, the red sky at night could possibly represent passion and love but at the same time also represents danger, almost foreshadowing what may happen later on.
Civil Rights Movement – Following World War II, America was still divided racially. The army had remained largely segregated during World War II with black and white regiments, despite campaigns such as the “Double V” which stood for victory against fascism in Europe and victory against racism in America, many areas of the country remained largely segregated (especially in the Deep South where the Jim Crow Laws ensured that black and white people were segregated on buses, in restaurants, in toilets and even on pavements).
However, as the armies were integrated in 1948, the face of the Civil Rights Movement began to change with the push strengthening. In 1955, Rosa Parks along with Martin Luther King and other figures led the Montgomery Bus Boycott following Parks’ arrest as she refused to get off a bus as she was sitting in a “whites only section”. This, eventually, led to the integration of bus services. In 1957 there was the integration of nine black students with white students in a school in Little Rock, however, there was major violence with riots across the town, eventually President Eisenhower sent in troops to calm the situation.
The movement strengthened further with figures such as Martin Luther King and his “I Have a Dream” Speech in Washington in 1963, however, change wouldn’t come quickly and many black people began to feel angry at the pace of change, some opting for a more militant approach. Malcolm X became an influential figure to many, believing that there should be a separatist America where black people would live separately to white people but have the same rights. Also, there was the Black Panther movement which promoted the famous slogan “Black Power”, as famously displayed in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City when Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos both raised their hands in a clenched fist salute while wearing black gloves, this bought major controversy as both athletes were sent home from the games.
However, by this time, change was occurring. The Civil Rights Act 1964 had bought desegregation for black people across the country, in public places segregation was now banned. However, despite this, there was still discrimination and prejudice against black people, even as recently as 1992 there have been widespread riots across Los Angeles because of the arrest of a black man by the police.
Vietnam War – The war began in 1959 between Communist forces from the North of Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh and South Vietnamese forces led by Ngo Dinh Diem. The US became involved primarily to ensure that the threat of Communism wasn’t spread and were confident of victory, feeling as though that the conflict would be over in a matter of weeks or months. However, this would soon prove to be incorrect.
Ngo Dinh Diem was ousted and assassinated with the South Vietnamese failing to beat even the smallest of Viet Cong forces. The Americans struggled to cope with the Viet Cong tactics of guerrilla warfare, this led to the Americans being forced to change tactic, ground war wasn’t working so the Americans decided to use the Tet Offensive as an aerial attack against the Ho Chi Minh tunnel, however, this was a massive failure and the US soldiers began to become less popular in South Vietnam. Bombing of North Vietnam did eventually stop as it proved largely ineffective.
However, at the same time the US attempted another form of warfare otherwise known as Chemical Warfare, the use of Napalm becoming one of the main standpoints of the war, napalm was used from 1965-1972 and was known for how lethal it could be, burning for up to 10 minutes at extraordinary temperatures. Overall, 8 million tonnes of this was dropped over Vietnam. Another tactic which was used by the US was that of “search and destroy” where soldiers would tour the villages of South Vietnam looking for North Vietnamese workers, this was deeply unpopular and only worsened relations with the people of South Vietnam.
Despite these tactics employed by the US, victory didn’t arrive, in fact, as Nixon came into power America began to withdraw soldiers from Vietnam and by 1975 the conflict was practically over with the North Vietnamese unifying the country under Communist rule.
The following link gives information regarding the Napoleonic Wars and how they were put across in Jane Austen’s novels: