The Picture of Dorian Gray | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray | Chapter 13 | Summary

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Summary

Basil follows Dorian upstairs to the room where he has stored Basil's painting of him. He tears back the curtain to reveal the portrait, and Basil screams in horror. He studies the painting and sees the remains of Dorian's beauty in this painting of decay and corruption. Basil also recognizes his own brushwork and, finally, sees his signature. Dorian watches him process the sight.

Basil eventually asks Dorian what this means. Dorian reminds Basil of the prayer he made when the portrait was completed—that the painting would age but Dorian himself would not grow older. Basil remembers but can't believe this is what happened. They argue about the painting and what must have happened. Basil eventually acknowledges the reality his eyes show him and is now horrified about what this says about Dorian's character. He begins to cry. They continue to talk through Basil's tears, and Basil tells Dorian how terrible his sins must be for the painting to look the way it does. Overcome with hatred, Dorian picks up a knife and stabs Basil to death. After the murder, the emotion leaves Dorian. He calmly covers up the crime. He leaves the house, and then rings the doorbell. When his drowsy servant opens the door, Dorian says he had forgotten his key. With this ruse he has established an alibi for himself since the man will be able to testify when Dorian came home. Once that is done, he looks up the address for Alan Campbell, a former friend.

Analysis

Wilde's philosophical goals are very contemporary, like Dorian's pleasures. However, this scene calls on the power of an older tradition: Gothic literature. The room Basil enters might as well be something from some haunted castle given its desolation, decay, and scuttling mice. Just as Gothic novels often contained hideous secrets, so does this mysterious locked room. At the same time though, this is a unique and specialized Gothic story. Most people would not realize the meaning of the secret that's revealed here, and it is essentially unheard of in the gothic tradition for someone to have to reveal a secret to the person who created it, as Dorian does to Basil.

This chapter supports the themes of appearance versus reality and art versus life and employs the symbol of Dorian's portrait. It also marks a transition in Dorian's character development. This is the first time since the portrait began to change that Dorian has let anyone else see the painting. Until this point Wilde was willing to essentially tease readers with the suggestion of how much Basil's painting had transformed. When Dorian reveals it, it is so horrific Basil screams at the sight. This communicates that Dorian's beautiful appearance is a mere façade for the degraded reality that the portrait reveals underneath. Although Dorian has been living as if no one else's opinion matters, it is clear Basil's reaction matters a lot. Dorian adamantly does not want to face his true nature—so much so that he kills Basil.

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