The Picture of Dorian Gray | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray | Chapter 18 | Summary

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Summary

The next day, despite his guests, Dorian stays in the house all day, terrified. He keeps thinking about seeing James Vane's face. He thinks about how Vane threatens him, and about all of his crimes (killing Basil chief among them). Henry joins him at six o'clock and finds him crying. Dorian stays indoors for three days before going for a walk with the duchess and then joins a group who will be shooting in the estate's park.

Dorian joins the duchess's brother, Sir Geoffrey Clouston. The two men walk together. Dorian is enjoying nature, and when they see a hare he begs Clouston not to shoot it. The man laughs at him and fires at the animal. The two men hear the sound of an injured hare—and the screams of an injured man. Clouston criticizes the gamekeeper for letting one of the beaters get in the way and spoil their fun. A few minutes later Henry finds Dorian and tells him the shooting has been cancelled for the day, and the man who was shot has died. Dorian calls this a "bad omen," but Henry laughs at him. The talk moves on to related topics, like women and flirting, with Dorian repeatedly complaining about how bad his life is but not giving Henry any details. The duchess joins them, but after a brief exchange Dorian excuses himself to go rest.

Alone in his room, Dorian is once again terrified and decides he leave his estate and go to London. He sees the beater's death as a sign of his own impending doom. The gamekeeper comes to see Dorian about the dead man, and Dorian offers to give money so the man's family won't suffer. However, the gamekeeper reports that the dead man isn't one of the beaters and looks like a sailor. Dorian is startled and insists on seeing the body. It is James Vane. Dorian feels relief and is sure he's now safe.

Analysis

This chapter underscores some key aspects of Dorian's character and provides several highly dramatic plot twists. Referencing Dorian's character, Wilde shows readers that Dorian is falling apart. This is no longer a man in complete control of his life. This is a man who cowers in his room, weeping. This is another of Wilde's complex renderings of the aesthetic movement. In theory Dorian should have been able to convert his encounter with James Vane into just another experience, akin to dabbling in gem collecting or Roman Catholicism. In reality, events like having one's life threatened overwhelm this philosophy. Wilde casts a second spotlight on Dorian's character when he sees the death of the beater as a bad omen. This is incredibly self-centered. When an individual views someone else's death as a sign that there might be trouble in one's own life, it is a signal of narcissism: everyone else is seen as a bit player or special effect. Here again though, Wilde illustrates the role of class in Dorian's world. When Sir Geoffrey shoots the beater, he isn't overcome with shame or horror at his actions. Instead he says, "What an ass ... " and complains about the man spoiling his shooting. Dorian's failings, then, are less his own than the failings of the rich and noble enlarged for easy viewing.

This is another instance in which the novel's plotting seems like something from a myth or fairy tale rather than a contemporary or realistic novel. This is the first time Dorian has been out of the house in days. There's an entire woods James can hide in. Dorian is extremely self-centered as a rule, and over the past few days he's been particularly focused on his own life and survival. So far Dorian's connection to nature has included smelling flowers, but he hasn't paid much attention to animals. (No cats or dogs are mentioned.) In responding to the hare's grace, Dorian reaches beyond his ego for one rare time in the book. He asks Clouston not to shoot the hare, but he does—and kills James too. It is as if Wilde is saying the path of compassion and empathy is not for Dorian. Instead, fortunate accidents happen to preserve his life and freedom.

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