“There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book.” This line aptly sums up the idea behind the entire plot of Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Observed first in the Preface of the book and another character by the name of Lord Henry, it was not only referring to the symbol of the yellow book that was the doctrine and controller of Dorian Gray’s later life, but instead would also be a truth of the character of Dorian Gray as a whole.
Observed by himself in chapter 13 of the novel, Dorian Gray cries that “Each of us has heaven and hell in him”, referring to everyone, but most importantly, to himself. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a novel about, obviously so, a picture of our protagonist, Dorian Gray. This picture of his is, as observed by himself, a view of his own soul. This picture mirrors all the ill-effects of Dorian’s actions on his soul, while his physical outer appearance has no change, letting him maintain his everlasting youthfulness and beauty. With Wilde delving into the theme of homoeroticism, it is not surprising that at the age of eighteen, Dorian Gray was the object of desire of both the painter, Basil, and a friend of Basil’s, Lord Henry. The start of the novel begins with Dorian Gray being the very picture of youthfulness, physical beauty and moral beauty. At the youthful age of eighteen, Gray was still very much a boy, not yet a man, being extremely naïve as to the power that this physical appearance gave him. Through Basil he meets Lord Henry, and through becoming somewhat of a protégé to Lord Henry and through Lord Henry stirring up vanity and pride in Gray, Gray loses this youthful innocence, soon becoming a man of hedonistic nature, like Lord Henry himself.
This is how Dorian Gray is not completely immoral, being swayed by the influences he had received from Lord Henry and the yellow book, but yet not completely moral, committing all the sins of hedonistic nature and the sin of murder. In this balance of events, we see a balance of immorality and morality, albeit tipping over towards immorality before ending in the ultimate death of Dorian Gray. However, the fact that the readers are continually led to believe that Dorian Gray has “both heaven and hell” within him leads the readers to continually question the ultimate morality of Dorian Gray.
It is this moral ambiguity ultimately bringing about his end, with him finally “longing for the unstained purity of his boyhood – his rose-white boyhood”, “[knowing] that he had tarnished himself, filled his mind with corruption and given horror to his fancy”. These thoughts do not signal to a person absolutely corrupted in his immorality. These thoughts instead signal to us the state of mind that Dorian Gray was in, the want and need to be good, but under influences, was not to be.