The ending of Dorian Gray is perhaps the most interesting close to a story we’ve engaged with this semester. I’d like to use this blog post to consider Dorian himself as the piece of art, rather than the portrait. This idea is mirrored in the final paragraph of the story, as the portrait re-claims its original youth at the conclusion of the story. It contains all of the “wonder” of Dorian’s “exquisite youth and beauty” (188). In addition to this, art has premance. Paintings look the same whether you view them ten minutes after their completion or twenty years later. This is the case for Dorian.
If Dorian himself is the piece of art, given his position as the most beautiful man in England, he is also the best artwork in England. Thus, I would argue the novel is a cautionary tale about art for art’s sake. Wilde is suggesting that perhaps there should be substance to the beautiful rather than just existing because it can.
Dorian is assigned value, and is considered virtuous purely because of his beauty. His character is not taken into account. Lord Henry goes as far as suggesting he could not possibly be a murder because he is so beautiful. Yet, it is only when Dorian attempts to destroy the artwork, himself, not the ugly, evil portrait that he dies or rather realizes consequences for his actions. Thus, Wilde warns the reader about the hazards of his own philosophy. He considers potential negatives of assuming that beauty is all that matters. One might view the novel in a similar vein as “Stan” by Eminem. Both ponder, and give voice, to critiques of their philosophy or actions. In the case of Eminem, that the things he says in his music have real world consequences. For Oscar Wilde, that using beauty as the sole metric of measuring the worth or morality of a human being can also have negative consequences.