Dorian Grey’s Reaction to the Change in the Painting
“The Picture of Dorian Grey” by Oscar Wilde, Dorian has a profound reaction each time he views the change in the painting, and he reacts with a self-pitying, vain attitude. Vanity haunts Dorian, and he cares only about how this change in the painting will affect himself and his outer beauty only. At first, Dorian worries about how his treatment of Sibyl Vane will affect the painting. He cares not about the cruel acts he committed, but rather dwells on how it will taint or tarnish the beauty of his portrait. (“A sense of infinite pity, not for himself, but for the painted image of himself, came over him.
It had altered already, and would alter more. Its gold would wither into grey. Its red and white roses would die. For every sin that he committed, a stain would fleck and wreck its fairness. But he would not sin. ” – Chapter 7) The change Dorian views on his painting does not make him regret his cruel treatment of Sibyl, or pity the girl. On the contrary, he pities the painted portrait of himself. His vanity consumes him, and he becomes obsessed with the notion that the painting will soon lose its beauty if he would continue to commit sins.
He then decides to change his ways, and no longer sin. He vows to return to Sibyl and rekindle their love. However, he vows to do so in vanity, rather than to become a better man. His unwillingness to watch the exquisite portrait succumb to degradation is the only reason behind his decision to return to Sibyl, which he considers the honorable action to take. He is scared that the painting and his soul would be destroyed if he does not do so, and therefore, in a vain effort to save their beauty, promises to make amends.
However, upon waking up the next morning and viewing the painting, he becomes very worried that his actions had indeed been cruel. He reacts to this realization by writing a letter to Sibyl. (“Finally, he went over to the table and wrote a passionate letter to the girl he had loved, imploring her forgiveness and accusing himself of madness… There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution. When Dorian had finished the letter, he felt that he had been forgiven. – Chapter 8) Dorian writes this letter not to take accountability for his actions, but rather to comfort himself. He is not necessarily doing this for the sake of comforting Sibyl, but rather for the sake of comforting himself. He believes all blame for his cruelty has been lifted from his shoulders by committing an act of self reproach, and confessing his cruelty. He believes he is forgiven for his actions, by writing a mere letter. He did so in concern of himself, not Sibyl. He then claims (“I am perfectly happy now… I want to be good.
I can’t bear the idea of my soul being hideous” – Chapter 8) He feels completely satisfied and happy upon writing the letter after viewing the change in the painting, despite not knowing whether or not he is forgiven for his actions; he thinks only of himself. He then claims he has noble, good-hearted intentions after writing the letter, as he is too vain to bear any part of him being deemed ugly. He writes the letter to assure himself his soul is not tainted. However, upon receiving news of Sibyl’s suicide, and speaking with Lord Henry, his reaction to the change in the painting alters, and he no longer views the change in a bad light. “If the picture was to alter, it was to alter. That was all. Why inquire too closely into it?…
What did it matter what happened to the coloured image on the canvas? He would be safe. That was everything. ” – Chapter 8) Lord Henry convinces Dorian that Sibyl’s suicide was a remarkable feat he wishes he could himself have accomplished. Dorian falls captive to his words, and deems the events a “marvelous experience”, and wishes an experience as marvelous should come again. Henry assures him such an event will come, for as long as Dorian’s beauty is retained.
Thus, the change in Dorian’s paradigm occurs, as he realizes his beauty will be retained, for as long as the portrait will change. He disregards his past reactions to the change: of worry for the portrait’s beauty, or regret for his cruelty against Sibyl, and his vanity consumes him; he believes he is safe, for as long as his outer beauty is maintained. The change in the painting was proof that he will remain young and beautiful while the painting loses its youth and beauty, and this now pleases him.
Dorian has many different reactions to the change in the painting, however, all display his newly obtained vain and selfish attitude; his reaction is a demonstration of his corruption at the hands of Lord Henry, and the fall of his character. In the novel, “The Picture of Dorian Grey” by Oscar Wilde, Dorian feels an onslaught of emotions during Sibyl Vane’s performance, all of which result in a loss of passion for Sibyl Vane and a profound change in his character. When watching an awkward performance, typical viewers would not have such a reaction but simply think themselves un-entertained.
However, Dorian is not a typical viewer but Sibyl’s fiancee, and very much in love with her artistic ability as well; the unconvincing performance leads to an onrush of feelings for Dorian. This star struck lover’s initial response to Sibyl’s performance is confusion. (“The voice was exquisite, but from the point of view of tone it was absolutely false. It was wrong in colour. It took away all the life from the verse. It made the passion unreal. He was puzzled and anxious. ” – Chapter 7) Dorian has a passion for art and luxury; overall, the beauty of objects. The central reason he falls in love with Sibyl is her ability to perform on stage.
He was captured by her ability to immerse herself in a role, regardless of the play. Therefore, he has an inability to process the change in her acting, and it is hard for him to believe that such a talented actress could ‘fail’ him by performing so badly. After the disappointing first act, he still waits to see the second, as if he still expects her to make a comeback. He is consumed by Sibyl’s ability to immerse herself into a role and is unable to come to the realization of her poor performance. Dorian’s secondary reaction to the performance is disappointment.
His disappointment leads him to lose all and any love or passion he once had for her; a passion which he boasted about. (“ ‘My God, Harry, how I worship her! ’ Hectic spots of red burned on his cheeks. He was terribly excited. ” – Chapter 4) Dorian’s outwardly display of his love showed the passion he once had for the woman and her talent. His cheeks once burned with passion and excitement for Sibyl Vane. This plays as a contrast to his reaction when watching the play. (“Dorian grew pale as he watched her…They were horribly disappointed. ” – Chapter 7) This incident changes the tone and surfaces Dorian’s dying love.
While once his cheeks burned a bright red with his love, they have now lost all colour and have gone pale. He once spoke very highly of Sibyl to both Basil and Lord Henry, and her mediocre performance also undermined his past statements; he continuously boasted about how Sibyl’s ability to perform despite Henry’s doubts, and she failed to live up to his past remarks. These two reactions lead to a profound change in Dorian;s character. Dorian’s realization that his love was not for Sibyl Vane, but rather for her acting and artistic talent, reveals his romantic vanity and his valuation of artistic beauty above all else.
After the show, Dorian goes to Sibyl, not with the intent to woo her like his previous visits but rather to treat her as beneath him as opposed to a beloved equal, due to her ‘failure’. (“She rose from her knees, and with a piteous expression of pain in her face, came across the room to him. She put her hand upon his arm and looked into his eyes. He thrust her back. ‘Don’t touch me! ’ he cried. ” – Chapter 7) He is heavily influenced by the opinions of Lord Henry when he uses cruel words to power his cold attitude towards Sibyl as he breaks all ties he once had with her.
His words are not like those of a man speaking to his past love but rather of an impatient man speaking to a less than efficient servant. He acts very cruel towards Sibyl, and believes he has a right to do so due to Sibyl’s performance. He believes that she has completely failed him, and this grants him a superiority over the woman; this is a perception he gained from Lord Henry’s infiltration of his mind. Dorian does not see the fault in his behavior and believes he has a right and reason to treat Sibyl as below him, without a single thought given to Sibyl’s perspective on the situation.
Dorian’s insensitive and heartless dismissal of Sibyl is a clear demonstration of the growing corruption of his character. Dorian’s reaction to Sibyl’s bland performance shows his character developing into a colder, crueler individual. He raves on about his love for her and her talent to an end, but as soon as her talent is gone, his love fades just as swiftly. The plethora of emotions that overcome Dorian and ultimately lead to his rejection of Sibyl Vane after just one displeasing performance is evidence of the change in his morals, and therefore, the fall in his character.