The amoral, pleasure-seeking aristocrat Lord Henry Wotton and the painter Basil Hallward are friends. Hallward shows Wotton a portrait he is working on. Wotton is deeply impressed with beauty of the sitter, a young man named Dorian Gray. Basil is reluctant to introduce the young man to Wotton, because he fears Wotton's influence over him. Nevertheless, he does introduces theme, and there is an immediate attraction between Wotton and the young man. Wotton subtly flatters Dorian, praising his physical beauty and appealing to the young man's intellectual vanity by sharing his unconventional ideas with him. Gradually Wotton gains more influence than Basil over the young man. Dorian confesses that he would give his soul for the beauty of eternal youth. At the moment he loses his soul, the portrait ironically becomes his property. Initially, Dorian remains untouched by his pact, until he falls in love with Sybil Vane, a young actress who captures his hearth through the beauty of her acting. Enchanted, ha asks her to marry him, but breaks his engagement when one of her performances disappoints him. She then kills herself and the first imperfection appears in the portrait.
Later on Sir Henry gives Dorian a yellow book filled with "metaphors monstrous as orchids". This extends Wotton's influence over Dorian and launches him on a career of vice. Slowly Dorian becomes notorious and his name associated with unmentionable vices. Although he retains his youthful beauty, the signs of his misdeeds appear on the portrait, which has been given to Dorian. Meanwhile he and Basil have drifted apart, but one day when they meet, Dorian decides to show him the portrait , and then kills Basil to prevent him spreading the news of the horrifying image he has seen. Dorian ends the novel as a social outcast and, unable to endure the sight of the portrait, cuts it to pieces. In doing so, however, he kills himself, in a powerful evocation of the theme of duality and the impossibility of separating the good and evil within man without fatal consequences.