Study Guide

The Picture of Dorian Gray Good vs. Evil

By Oscar Wilde

Good vs. Evil

Chapter 1
Basil Hallward

"Dorian Gray is my dearest friend," he said. "He has a simple and a beautiful nature. Your aunt was quite right in what she said of him. Don't spoil him. Don't try to influence him. Your influence would be bad. The world is wide, and has many marvellous people in it. Don't take away from me the one person who gives to my art whatever charm it possesses: my life as an artist depends on him. Mind, Harry, I trust you." He spoke very slowly, and the words seemed wrung out of him almost against his will.

"What nonsense you talk!" said Lord Henry, smiling, and taking Hallward by the arm, he almost led him into the house. (1.24-25)

And the battle begins. Basil, sadly, is fully aware of what Henry is capable of – he's worried from the very beginning that Henry will turn his young friend from good to evil.

Chapter 4
Dorian Gray

"You know how a voice can stir one. Your voice and the voice of Sibyl Vane are two things that I shall never forget. When I close my eyes, I hear them, and each of them says something different. I don't know which to follow." (4.10)

Again, Dorian has a choice between good (Sybil) and evil (Henry) – he's torn between his love for the two of them.

Chapter 6

"I hope the girl is good, Harry. I don't want to see Dorian tied to some vile creature, who might degrade his nature and ruin his intellect."

"Oh, she is better than good – she is beautiful," murmured Lord Henry, sipping a glass of vermouth and orange-bitters. "Dorian says she is beautiful, and he is not often wrong about things of that kind. Your portrait of him has quickened his appreciation of the personal appearance of other people. It has had that excellent effect, amongst others." (6.2)

Here, we see a frequent mistake made in this book – the confusion of beauty and goodness. Henry goes a step further, saying that beauty is even better than goodness.

Dorian Gray

"I love Sibyl Vane. I want to place her on a pedestal of gold and to see the world worship the woman who is mine. What is marriage? An irrevocable vow. You mock at it for that. Ah! don't mock. It is an irrevocable vow that I want to take. Her trust makes me faithful, her belief makes me good. When I am with her, I regret all that you have taught me. I become different from what you have known me to be. I am changed, and the mere touch of Sibyl Vane's hand makes me forget you and all your wrong, fascinating, poisonous, delightful theories." (6.8)

Interestingly, Dorian seems to recognize that he's at a turning point here – he's willing to put Lord Henry's "poisonous" theories behind him and live a good life with Sibyl.

Lord Henry Wotton

"Pleasure is the only thing worth having a theory about," he answered in his slow melodious voice. "But I am afraid I cannot claim my theory as my own. It belongs to Nature, not to me. Pleasure is Nature's test, her sign of approval. When we are happy, we are always good, but when we are good, we are not always happy."

"Ah! but what do you mean by good?" cried Basil Hallward.

"Yes," echoed Dorian, leaning back in his chair and looking at Lord Henry over the heavy clusters of purple-lipped irises that stood in the centre of the table, "what do you mean by good, Harry?"

"To be good is to be in harmony with one's self," he replied, touching the thin stem of his glass with his pale, fine-pointed fingers. "Discord is to be forced to be in harmony with others. One's own life – that is the important thing. As for the lives of one's neighbours, if one wishes to be a prig or a Puritan, one can flaunt one's moral views about them, but they are not one's concern. Besides, individualism has really the higher aim. Modern morality consists in accepting the standard of one's age. I consider that for any man of culture to accept the standard of his age is a form of the grossest immorality."

"But, surely, if one lives merely for one's self, Harry, one pays a terrible price for doing so?" suggested the painter.

"Yes, we are overcharged for everything nowadays. I should fancy that the real tragedy of the poor is that they can afford nothing but self-denial. Beautiful sins, like beautiful things, are the privilege of the rich." (6.8)

Basically, Lord Henry seems to think that if you can afford to be sinfully self-indulgent, you should go ahead and do it. His vision of good and evil is a rather cloudy one – to him, the real conflict is between the self and the society that surrounds it. See also "Morality and Ethics" for more on Henry's views.

Chapter 7
Dorian Gray

"Then the curtain rises, and you will see the girl to whom I am going to give all my life, to whom I have given everything that is good in me." (7.2)

Hmm…so, if Dorian has given everything good in him to Sibyl, does it all perish when she does?

Chapter 8
Dorian Gray

For a moment, he thought of praying that the horrible sympathy that existed between him and the picture might cease. It had changed in answer to a prayer; perhaps in answer to a prayer it might remain unchanged. And yet, who, that knew anything about life, would surrender the chance of remaining always young, however fantastic that chance might be, or with what fateful consequences it might be fraught? Besides, was it really under his control? Had it indeed been prayer that had produced the substitution? Might there not be some curious scientific reason for it all? If thought could exercise its influence upon a living organism, might not thought exercise an influence upon dead and inorganic things? Nay, without thought or conscious desire, might not things external to ourselves vibrate in unison with our moods and passions, atom calling to atom in secret love or strange affinity? But the reason was of no importance. He would never again tempt by a prayer any terrible power. If the picture was to alter, it was to alter. That was all. Why inquire too closely into it? (8.24)

Again, Dorian backs away from an important turning point; his choice to leave the portrait as it is and not even try to pray forgiveness is a solid check in the "Evil" box.

Chapter 10
Lord Henry Wotton

He shuddered, and for a moment he regretted that he had not told Basil the true reason why he had wished to hide the picture away. Basil would have helped him to resist Lord Henry's influence, and the still more poisonous influences that came from his own temperament. The love that he bore him -- for it was really love -- had nothing in it that was not noble and intellectual. It was not that mere physical admiration of beauty that is born of the senses and that dies when the senses tire. It was such love as Michelangelo had known, and Montaigne, and Winckelmann, and Shakespeare himself. Yes, Basil could have saved him. But it was too late now. The past could always be annihilated. Regret, denial, or forgetfulness could do that. But the future was inevitable. There were passions in him that would find their terrible outlet, dreams that would make the shadow of their evil real. (10.7)

Lord Henry's triumph is apparent here. Basil, who represents all that's good and loving, is ousted by the influences of both Lord Henry and Dorian himself. It looks for the moment like the struggle is over, and evil has won.

Dorian Gray

One hardly knew at times whether one was reading the spiritual ecstasies of some mediaeval saint or the morbid confessions of a modern sinner. It was a poisonous book. The heavy odour of incense seemed to cling about its pages and to trouble the brain. The mere cadence of the sentences, the subtle monotony of their music, so full as it was of complex refrains and movements elaborately repeated, produced in the mind of the lad, as he passed from chapter to chapter, a form of reverie, a malady of dreaming, that made him unconscious of the falling day and creeping shadows.(10.21)

Here, the greatest advocate for evil enters the picture – the poisonous yellow book. It changes Dorian's world immediately, and its seduction blurs the line between good and evil. The book's seduction takes over Dorian's soul.

Chapter 11
Dorian Gray

There was a horrible fascination in them all. He saw them at night, and they troubled his imagination in the day. The Renaissance knew of strange manners of poisoning -- poisoning by a helmet and a lighted torch, by an embroidered glove and a jewelled fan, by a gilded pomander and by an amber chain. Dorian Gray had been poisoned by a book. There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realize his conception of the beautiful. (11.37)

This is it – here is an admission of Dorian's real acceptance of his innate evil. To him, beauty has gone from being ultimately good (as in Sibyl Vane's case) to being linked to evil. This move of his aesthetic sensibilities represents the completion of the shift in his character.

Chapter 13
Dorian Gray

"Each of us has heaven and hell in him, Basil," cried Dorian with a wild gesture of despair. (13.7)

Dorian's "despair" here is intriguing – is he, who never excuses anything, trying to explain himself to Basil?

Chapter 16
Dorian Gray

He was prisoned in thought. Memory, like a horrible malady, was eating his soul away. From time to time he seemed to see the eyes of Basil Hallward looking at him. Yet he felt he could not stay. The presence of Adrian Singleton troubled him. He wanted to be where no one would know who he was. He wanted to escape from himself. (16.16)

Finally, the consequences of Dorian's choice are really kicking in – though he's firmly planted on the evil side, memories of what was once good (Basil and even his past self) keep plaguing him.

Dorian walked to the door with a look of pain in his face. As he drew the curtain aside, a hideous laugh broke from the painted lips of the woman who had taken his money. "There goes the devil's bargain!" she hiccoughed, in a hoarse voice.

"Curse you!" he answered, "don't call me that."

She snapped her fingers. "Prince Charming is what you like to be called, ain't it?" she yelled after him. (16.22-23)

This reminder of Dorian's fatal choice to go from "Prince Charming" to "devil's bargain" is the last thing he needs right now – a reminder of the grotesque mess he's made of his life.