“The Picture of Dorian Gray”, The Angel, and The Devil

The passage where Dorian is looking between his portrait and his real self in the mirror brings up the comparison of sin and aging for the second time in the novel. I found it interesting how the novel portrays aging and sin as comparable, both explicitly and in physical descriptions. The comparison becomes especially clear because as Dorian develops a growing fascination with his own beauty, he becomes more concerned about the ugliness of physical aging than his growing physical evil. 

As the portrait physically changes throughout the novel, Dorian identifies the physical alterations of the portrait as signs of aging, but characterized in a negative light. Dorian describes the painting as growing old, depicted by developing cheeks “hollow or flaccid”, “Yellow crow’s feet”, a mouth that would “gape or droop”, a “wrinkled throat”, and “the cold, blue-veined hands…that he remembered in [his] grandfather” (121). The physical descriptions of Dorian’s aging body in the portrait carry a tone of disgust and ugliness that is then contrasted with an eerie tone of Dorian’s admiration for his own beauty and fascination with the corruption of his soul. The language used to describe how Dorian looks at the portrait and himself in the mirror, examining the “hideous wrinkled forehead”, “heavy sensual mouth”, and “coarse bloated hands” carry a tone of horror and at times sexualization, that is symbolic of the perverted adoration Dorian begins to feel for his corruption. 

Dorian also says this explicitly when describing how he stares at himself in the mirror and in the portrait, describing how “the very sharpness of the contrast used to quicken his sense of pleasure” (127). He feels a sense of excitement at the contrasted sight of himself changing for the worse. Additionally, the way he places his hands against the picture and smiles is a chilling image that encapsulates the deterioration of his soul but also shows Dorian facing the internal dilemma of whether to blame his newfound ugliness on the portrait of the aging body or the corruption of his soul. As he looks between the ugly, aging portrait and his youthful, evil face, the creepy scenes of Dorian admiring the evil qualities of his portrait insinuate his decision that the signs of age were far more horrible to him than the signs of sin (127). 

I thought this passage could be saying something about age and innocence in the novel. Taking into account the relationships Dorian shares with Basil and with Lord Henry, the influences of both these older men on Dorian are worthy of note in his transformation. Basil and Dorian have their artist and muse relationship, but it also can be interpreted as a father and son dynamic. Basil takes great admiration and care for Dorian, and in general carries a gentle and nurturing tone. Lord Henry is more negative and selfish, constantly complaining about women, and talking about how marriage is a prison. In this way, Basil and Lord Henry can be seen as “the angel and the devil” on Dorian’s shoulders, influencing the way he views himself and the world around him. This comes to a head later in the novel when Dorian kills “the angel”, Basil, solidifying the almost “aging” of his soul into a descent of corruption when he succumbs to the influence of “the devil” and loses his innocence both the sins of sin and the sins of aging.