The Conscience of Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray
Much of the criticism regarding The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde has dealt with Dorian Gray’s relation to his own portrait (Raby 392). While some may argue that the portrait represents a reflection of Dorian Gray’s character, this is only a superficial analysis of the novel and Dorian’s character. While Dorian Gray’s true character never changes, it is his own perception of his character (his conscience) that is reflected in the changing face of his portrait. In essence Dorian’s picture becomes a mirror through which the "true Dorian" judges his own metamorphasis as the superficial "Lord Henry Dorian" attempts to embrace Lord Henry’s teachings. Dorian’s duality of character causes a constant internal struggle within him, ultimately culminating in his own suicide.
Initially, Lord Henry’s doctrine of "new Hedonism" contrasts sharply with Dorian’s youthful innocence and passions. These initial feelings are the reader’s first and clearest experience with the soon to be repressed "true Dorian." The terminology, however, does not imply that Dorian has never been influenced before. This unblemished character simply represents Dorian’s self at the start of the novel, a state which he accepts as his own and is able to find peace in. From this first conversation, Dorian’s peace begins shatter when he learns of Lord Henry’s philosophy and its implications for his own life. Dorian is described as a "brainless, beautiful creature" (3), appropriate since all Dorian has at this stage in the novel is his own initial, untainted feelings. Thus this "pre-Henry" stage is the only time in the novel at which Dorian expresses his "true self" outwardly. This "brainless" description does not, however, imply that Dorian is truly empty – in fact, Dorian notes that "[the influences] seemed t o him to have come really from himself." As such, Dorian is immediately attracted to Lord Henry’s teachings as a way to express his own "self," apparent in his own immediate metamorphasis – which could not have occurred instantaneously had the ideas been completely new – and in his desire to discover himself further through learning Lord Henry’s teachings (41). Also at this initial stage of the novel, Dorian makes his fateful wish for eternal youth, immediately after "recogniz[ing] himself for the first time" at the impetus of Lord Henry (24). This desire to remain youthful does indeed come true for Dorian; his true youthful character remains with him throughout the novel, though he often tries to repress and extinguish it.
As a whole, this opening confrontation between Lord Henry and Dorian’s initial character proves several points: one, Dorian does have his own passions and soul before meeting Lord Henry, and two, Lord Henry’s teachings initially echo Dorian’s own feelings, which are what draw him to Lord Henry over the two-dimensional Basil Hallward. Later, ironically, it is Lord Henry’s...