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The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray


by Oscar Wilde

Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.

Plot Type : Tragedy

Anticipation Stage

Innocent Dorian meets Lord Henry (Chapters 1-2)

Dorian Gray is totally young, pure, and beautiful, and his only concerns at this stage seem to be related to staying young, pure, and beautiful. However, this idyll can't last long with Lord Henry Wotton in the works—he seizes upon the young man, and immediately launches into a life-changing lecture about the merits of giving into desire.

Dream Stage

Everything's coming up roses – for a brief while (Chapters 3-7)

It appears for a while that Lord Henry is wrong—Dorian is just loving life, and loving Sibyl Vane. Everything looks peachy, and Dorian seems to have found his own kind of happiness. He's still intrigued by Henry (they hang out just about every day), but his inner innocence resists the corrupting influence of his friend.

Dorian's pure love for Sibyl Vane looks like it might be the antidote to the poisonous theories of Lord Henry… however, Sibyl's last performance and her suicide put an abrupt end to this stage.

Frustration Stage

Let's try things Lord Henry's way—life never seems good enough, but Dorian keeps searching for new ways to make it exciting (Chapters 8-12)

After Sibyl's death, Dorian is profoundly changed—he goes over to Lord Henry's side and basically becomes a somewhat more evil version of Lord Henry himself. This begins with the yellow book—it "poisons" Dorian's mind, and changes him completely. Dorian gets sketchier and sketchier, as his portrait grows more and more grotesque.

Nightmare Stage

Basil gets into trouble with Dorian; Dorian gets into trouble with James Vane (Chapters 12-18)

Oh dear. Poor Basil forces Dorian to confront his own evil deeds, and Dorian really doesn't like it. Things just get worse from here on out—Dorian's sucked into a kind of vortex of evil deeds by a combination of factors (Basil's murder, the appearance of James Vane, his own increasing paranoia).

Death Wish or Destruction Stage

Dorian thinks he can change—but ultimately, he can't (Chapters 19-20)

Once Dorian's troubles all subside (James is dead, and nobody knows he killed Basil), he reevaluates his life. His decision to become good again is basically a desire to eliminate the grotesquely ugly Dorian he sees in the portrait.

Consequently, his modified wish to keep living as he did and just destroy the portrait is similarly a matter of destroying that other self. However, Dorian doesn't realize that he and the painted Dorian are one and the same—so what begins as an impulse to destroy the evidence of his sins ends as a kind of unintentional suicide.

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