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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Picture of Dorian Gray

Shmoop's snapshot of a classic play.

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It was either Oscar Wilde or Matthew McConaughey who once said, "That's the great thing about Dorian Gray: I get older; he stays the same age."

Okay, we might be a little dazed and confused and mixing up our quotes. But one thing we are sure of is how to teach The Picture of Dorian Gray, a difficult novel full of secret desires and sexual identity issues.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity analyzing the philosophical, political, and historical context of the novel.
  • articles exploring how the novel has inspired satire and parody throughout the ages.
  • historical resources, like a biography of Oscar Wilde.

And much more.

This Portrait isn't paint-by-number, but Shmoop can help you color inside—and outside—the lines.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: Time for a cartoon break! Oscar Wilde was not only a witty chap—he was also pretty big on social commentary. So it's not surprise that his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, has inspired its share of cartoons featuring both parody and satire. 

In this activity, your students will analyze several Dorian Gray-related cartoons in order to get a grasp on the difference between parody and satire. Then they'll try their hands at parody or satire by creating their own DG-inspired cartoons.

Length of Lesson: 1 class period + homework

Materials Needed:

Step 1a (to be done in advance): Before class, choose two cartoons to introduce the lesson. You'll want to make sure that one is an example of a parody, and the other is an example of satire. Next, decide how you'll show them to the class. 

  • If your students have individual laptops or tablets, you can provide them with the necessary links and have them view the cartoons that way. 
  • Otherwise, you can show the cartoons one at a time on your projector or SmartBoard, or print out hard copies of your chosen comics to be handed out to the students. 

In Step Four, you will need to display 3-5 more cartoons (enough so that each group of 3-4 students can have a different cartoon, if possible). If you have multiple classroom computers or if students have their own devices, they can view the cartoons digitally. If not, you may want to print hard copies of the cartoons. 

Step 1: Show your first two Dorian Gray-inspired cartoons to the class—the ones you've chosen to introduce the lesson. Remember: one of them should be an example of parody, and the other should be an example of satire. Have students to pair up and spend 5 minutes discussing what or whom the cartoons are making fun of and why the cartoons are (or aren't) funny. 

Step 2: Bring the class back together and let the pairs share their observations. As they talk about what makes the cartoons funny (or not funny), lead them into a discussion of satire and parody. People often get these terms mixed up, so you can begin by reviewing their definitions:

After your students have the definitions straight, ask them which cartoon is an example of parody, and which one is an example of satire—and make sure they're able to explain their choices!

Step 3: Ask the students to divide into small groups of 3-4 and give each group a different cartoon to study. As they discuss their cartoons, the groups should answer the following questions (and someone in the group should take notes so they can present the group's answers to the class):

  1. First of all, what is it that makes this cartoon funny? Or, if you don't think it is funny, try to explain why it's supposed to be funny.
  2. Is this cartoon an example of satire or parody? Explain.
  3. Pretend that all you have in front of you is the illustration for the cartoon—no words have been added yet. Try to imagine new text for this cartoon. 
  4. Now that you've changed the cartoon, is it a parody or a satire? Explain.

Step 5: Bring the class back together again and let each group present its cartoon. Groups should first share the original cartoon and explain whether it is an example of parody or satire. They should then go over their text changes and explain whether or not the new cartoon is satire or parody (and why). 

Step 6: Time to go one step further. For homework, have students try their hands at creating their own Dorian Gray-inspired cartoons. You can tell them you're not expecting artistic perfection on these—stick figures are fine. (And they can be very funny.)

When they've created a cartoon, they should write a brief paragraph explaining the cartoon. The explanation should identify the cartoon as either parody or satire and explain why.

Step 7 (optional): If you have class time to spare, let students share their cartoons either by passing them around or by letting them do brief presentations. If there's no time for that, collect the cartoons for assessment and then post them on a bulletin board for all to see. Or, if you have a student who needs some extra credit, you could have the cartoons assembled into a class booklet or newsletter. 

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th and 10th grade Reading 3.2, 3.4, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.11, 3.12; Writing 2.2; Written & Oral English Language Conventions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 1.14. 11th and 12th grade Reading 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9; Writing 2.2; Written & Oral English Language Conventions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 1.3, 1.14.)

Instructions for Your Students

Time for a cartoon break!

Sure, The Picture of Dorian Gray can be a tough read in places, but Oscar Wilde is remembered for his biting wit, and his humor is a lot like the humor of cartoonists who use parody and satire to get their laughs—you know, like the ones who create op-ed cartoons?

Believe it or not, there are a slew of such cartoons inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray. In this activity, you'll be looking at a few of them and deciding what makes them funny as well as whether they're examples of parody or satire.

Step 1: In class, you'll pair up and take a look at two Dorian Gray-inspired cartoons (most likely two from the list below):

You'll have about 5 minutes to discuss what or who the two cartoons are making fun of and why the cartoons are (or aren't) funny. 

Step 2: Your teacher will bring the class back together and give everyone a chance share their observations. (Get in there! Discussions are so much more interesting when you participate.)

As you talk about what makes the cartoons funny (or not), your teacher is going to want to start talking about the difference between satire and parody. People often get these terms mixed up, so it might be good to review their definitions:

Once you have the definitions straight, look back at those two cartoons. Which one is an example of parody, and which one is an example of satire? And the million dollar question: Why?

Step 3: Time for some more cartoons. Divide into small groups of 3-4. Your teacher will give each group a different cartoon to study. As you discuss your cartoon, work with your group to answer the following questions: 

(Psst! Someone in the group should take notes so you can present your group's answers to the class.)

  1. First of all, what is it that makes this cartoon funny? Or, if you don't think it is funny, try to explain why it's supposed to be funny.
  2. Is this cartoon an example of satire or parody? Explain.
  3. Pretend that all you have in front of you is the illustration for the cartoon—no words have been added yet. Try to imagine new text for this cartoon. 
  4. Now that you've changed the cartoon, is it a parody or a satire? Explain.

Step 5: Let's get the class back together again so groups can report out. When it's your turn, you should first share your original cartoon and explain whether it is an example of parody or satire. Then go over the text changes you made and explain whether or not the new cartoon is satire or parody (and why). 

Step 6: Time to take things one step further. For homework, try your hand at creating your own Dorian Gray-inspired cartoon. Don't worry. No one is expecting artistic perfection on these—stick figures are fine. (And they can be very funny.)

When you've created your cartoon, write a brief paragraph explaining it. Don't forget to identify your cartoon as either parody or satire (and explain why).

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WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    Full Text    
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