Dorian Gray is the story of a man who subscribes to the hedonistic philosophy while also maintaining his youth and beauty at the cost of his morality and ethics. While some analysis specialize on author himself, society at the time, or whole themes, the focus here will be primarily be on the characters including Dorian, Basil, Henry, and Sybil.
A major object in the story is the portrait of Dorian Gray. The portrait takes on Dorian’s sins, vices, and aging so that Dorian can preserve his youth and beauty. This was made possible by Dorian’s Faustian exchange of selling his soul for said youth and beauty. At the beginning, Basil was afraid to publicize his portrait of Dorian as he feared it would display more about the painter (Basil) than the subject (Dorian), thus exposing the secrets of Basil’s soul. It is interpreted that Basil was worried about the portrait leaving traces and evidence of his attraction to Dorian Gray as homosexuality was heavily stigmatized in Victorian England. Indeed, Dorian is portrayed as innocent looking in the same way that Basil views him. While there is a literal portrait present, Dorian Gray could be said to be also a portrait. Dorian Gray is an empty white canvas and is shown to be very impressionable as Dorian, the pure white canvas, has been tainted by Henry’s painted layers of hedonistic philosophy and pursuit of beauty and youth. This suggests that despite being a young man, Dorian Gray has developed little to no individual moral values himself since he doesn’t analyzes Henry’s philosophy by basing anything on past experiences, internal logic, etc as if Dorian is an empty white slate. As manipulation is an art, Henry seems to be amused by his ability to influence and manipulate others, including Dorian. Dorian Gray seems to be one of his greatest artwork as Dorian Gray fell into disastrous consequences in the end.
Two of most important figures in Dorian’s life, Basil and Henry are symbols of paths of Christ or Devil and morality battle between angel and devil. Lord Henry convinces Dorian to pursue pleasure and focus on self with no regards on others. He represents the Devil figure in Dorian’s life, seemingly implanting Dorian with the path of selfishness and moral decadence that would eventually lead to Dorian’s folly. Basil is Dorian’s morality pet, the angel on his shoulders. He represents the path of righteousness as he urges Dorian to pray and repent for forgiveness after Dorian’s descend into further corruption led to destruction of others. After Dorian murdered Basil, there is little hope for Dorian to redeem himself. Even his promise to change himself was motivated by his vanity of how he appears in the portrait and not a genuine change of heart.
Also considering the two significant people in Dorian’s life would be the interpretation that the three Dorian, Basil, and Henry each represent id, ego, and superego in Freudian model of psyche. Obviously, Dorian is the id as evident in his unfettered pursuit of pleasure and the one who gives in most to impulses. Basil, having played the role of the mediator between Dorian and Henry, is the ego. Although it might be odd for Henry to be the superego, he is nevertheless the superego as he uses his internal logic to debate against society norms and to advocate satisfying the id.
Before and after Dorian’s change after Henry’s influence, Dorian throughout the story represents a child. At the beginning, he is described to be innocent man who was easily manipulated by a seemingly wise authority. Another character in the story that also represents a child would be Sybil. Indeed, Sybil and Dorian can be said to be two sides of the same coin. While Dorian represents the dark side of children considering his impulsiveness and want for instant gratification, selfishness, and impressionable nature, Sybil symbolizes the more wholesome traits of children including idealism and innocent itself. These traits inevitably make Sybil vulnerable to being destroyed by the outside world and others. Innocence can be easily corrupted or destroyed as in the case in both Dorian and Sybil.