The Picture of Dorian Gray, Amoral, Immoral or Moral? - Literature Analysis Essay

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The presence or absence of morality in the book The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is a subject of uncertainty. Every character in the novel has his or her moral scales, which result in a world where people are not sure about what is right or wrong. Readers are likely to develop divisions between two kinds of morals (Arnold, 2007). The first one entails morals that have a direction and seek to lead an individual to a particular form of action or inaction. The other encompasses morals that lack directions, which are intended to prove an element of life that may affect how an individual develops his or her morals (Arnold, 2007).

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Morality in the Picture of Dorian Gray

It is quite difficult to discern aspects of morality because, in the introduction, Wilde explicitly states that there exist no moral or immoral books, but only well-written and bad books (Wilde, 2006). From the introduction, Wilde seems to leave his words open to the reader’s interpretation. Hence, it may be plausible that there is no moral in the book, and Wilde’s goal was to compose a good book, leaving the readers with the work of looking for the moral. However, there seems to be an unambiguous moral in the book. For example, Dorian ends up punished for his egoism, an unhealthy fascination with youthfulness, vanity, and profligacy, and decadence. Lord Henry and Dorian live in a world painted as an empty sham, and when Dorian decides to do good acts, the picture simply worsens since his right actions were hypocritical (Arnold, 2007). Therefore, there is some sense that regardless of how good a person can be at hiding his or her sins and appearing as good to the world, their soul, symbolized by the painting, will eventually rot completely and suffer the consequences of the actions.

What Immoral Acts Does Dorian Gray Commit in the Picture of Dorian Gray?

The insinuations to the immoral activities of Dorian tend to be vague, thereby inviting readers to seek answers to the vague and foggy references to indirect dishonest acts with their disgusting fantasies. An outrageous aspect of the subsequent reactions of Dorian was his denial to take responsibility or at least regret for his actions (Arnold, 2007). His efforts to adopt a hedonistic philosophy seem to take an extremely unsympathetic turn. Readers can presume that Wilde was conscious of the likely revulsion by the reader. While hedonism is, in itself a moral principle that is expressively illustrated by Lord Henry, the book cannot be considered entirely to approve such a principle.

Characters in the Picture of Dorian Gray

There are three characters in the novel, namely Dorian, Basil Hallward, and Lord Henry, who seem to demonstrate all excesses and renunciations strongly, ultimately bringing forth their retribution. However, this demonstration does not appear as inviting particular moral viewpoints (Liebman, 1999). These characters also have different relationships with varying excesses and renunciation, and eventually, all of them are punished. One can similarly interpret the actions of Dorian as excesses or renunciations as well as the actions of the other characters. Since excesses may be equal to the renunciation of the opposing idea or act and vice-versa, it is quite difficult to deduce any direct morals from the book. It appears as if there is no set of behavior, which is completely safe (Liebman, 1999). As such, while readers cannot help, but be hypnotized by the manner in which the characters in the novel suffer because of their actions, I do not think that there is a moral that compels readers to a particular conclusion. Instead, the book leaves it to the readers to decide on their own how they want to act after reading the book.

In addition, what readers can get from the novel is that they may not experience the consequences of their immoral actions presently. These consequences could be eating away concealed aspects of their lives only if they could see and turn away from such actions as Dorian did by locking away the decaying painting (Arnold, 2007). However, Dorian commits many bad actions, which eventually destroy his conscience and soul as he ends up killing himself. Wilde is trying to imply that human beings must live their lives in a right and good way, and if they do not, they may destroy any happiness that they could have enjoyed (Arnold, 2007).


It may also be possible for one to state that the moral of the story can be viewed as subjective to readers. This means that some readers may see that morals exist in the story, in the sense that, Dorian’s actions led to the destruction of his soul (Liebman, 1999). However, other readers could conclude that Dorian received a fair deal by giving up his soul and getting to experience unique things that no average human could withstand (Liebman, 1999). As such, one could say that there is some moral in the novel, but subjective to readers.


Arnold, M. (2007). Culture and Anarchy. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ed. Andrew Elfenbein. New York, NY: Pearson Longman, 276279.

Liebman, S. W. (1999). Character Design In "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Studies in the Novel, 31(3), 296-316.

Wilde, O. (2006). The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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