Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray comments on moral corruption through the abstract concepts of art. Dorian Gray acts as an innocent blank slate until Lord Henry fills his mind with misogynistic and unnecessarily cruel thoughts. But what if the true cause of Dorain’s corruption? Is Lord Henry fully responsible for influencing a young man into becoming serial killer? Was Dorian always a serial killer in waiting? Or perhaps the very vanity of art simply corrupted his soul.
Dorian adopts Lord Henry’s views without consideration. Specifically Lord Henry’s misogynistic views teach Dorian to be vain about his own beauty. Even though Sibyll is an actress, Lord Henry believes her actual acting performance will still be a “delightful experience” as long as if she is “lovely” and beautiful (Wilde 73). By claiming the key to maintaining youth, and therefore beauty, is to avoid “unbecoming emotions” (Wilde 73), he claims youth and beauty coincide. Additionally, emphasizing Sibyll’s beauty over her acting skills puts youth and beauty on a higher pedestal than skill, intellect, morals. Dorian, who wishes to stay young and beautiful, now believes he must be vain and proud, and not anything unbecoming, in order to keep his beauty. If Lord Henry claims Dorian’s “tragic” look was unbecoming (Wilde 73), then it’s not far of a stretch to say shame and guilt are also unbecoming. Dorian later commits murder and feels a warped sense of shame, lamenting how Basil dead body was like “a dreadful wax image” (Wilde 135), even though he merciless stabbed Basil himself several times. The portrait Basil painted of Dorian reflects his moral decline.
Yet Dorian keeps the portrait covered by a screen. It is only when he “drew the screen aside, and saw himself face to face” that he realized the portrait had in fact changed from a picture of innocence to Dorain with a sneer (Wilde 82). Upon seeing the portrait changed for the first time, Dorian hadn’t murdered Basil yet, but he had been cruel to Sibyll. Lord Henry had by then filled Dorian’s head with misogynistic views, but is he fully responsible for Dorian’s decline? Can a person really become a serial killer just by listening to a toxic jerk? Although the portrait changes in tandem with Dorian’s decline, Dorian doesn’t see the changes until he uncovers the portrait. In that way, the portrait acts as Schrodinger’s Cat, where the time it unchanged is unknown since it is only observed when the screen is removed. When did the portrait really change? Did it predict Dorina’s decline or simply illustrate it after the fact? If no one checked on the painting, would Dorian still corrupt, would the painting still show beauty instead of cruelty?