The Picture of Dorian Gray | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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Chapter 2

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 2 of Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The Picture of Dorian Gray | Chapter 2 | Summary



Once Henry and Basil enter the studio, Henry and Dorian briefly talk about Aunt Agatha—their shared connection. Henry finds Dorian intensely beautiful and stays to watch Basil work on the portrait. Dorian asks Henry if he is a bad influence. Henry answers at length, explaining all influence is bad. The purpose of human life is for individuals to express their own thoughts and passions. His philosophical ideal is a life that's completely self-centered yet so beautiful it gives joy to everyone else. Dorian asks Henry to stop talking. He thinks about what he's just heard for 10 minutes, without speaking. Basil paints without noticing Dorian's introspection.

When he speaks again, Dorian calls for a break. He goes into the garden. Henry follows. He praises Dorian for smelling the flowers, telling him that the senses can cure the soul. Henry also urges Dorian to move into the shade so he doesn't ruin his beauty, and speaks at length about the meaning of beauty.

They return to the studio. Basil finishes the portrait, and Henry admires it. Dorian, however, is struck by how sad it is that his portrait will stay young and beautiful while he ages. He wishes things were the other way around—that he would remain young and his portrait would age.


As cultivated as Henry is, when he first meets Dorian his response to Dorian's beauty is as naive as anyone else's. He thinks there is "something in his face that made one trust him at once." That's both a testament to the power of beauty (Dorian's beauty specifically) and a sign of how it leads everyone in the novel to misjudge others. It is also a commentary on the widespread social tendency to trust beautiful people more than unattractive people.

Three fundamental and related elements of the novel are found in this chapter. First, Henry makes Dorian aware of his own beauty for the first time and raises the thought that, by aging, Dorian will lose his beauty. This sort of observation is a factor that makes Henry a fascinating character. Grasping the fleeting nature of sensory pleasures and one's own life is a tremendous insight—one that can change people. The realization certainly changes Dorian—forever and not for the better. Second, this meeting establishes an ongoing and not particularly healthy relationship between Henry and Dorian. Dorian may be beautiful, but Henry is witty and insightful. Though he denounces all forms of persuasion, this chapter establishes Henry's effect on Dorian in very clear terms. This influence will extend into the very depths of Dorian's soul, as seen when Henry persuades Dorian to put Sibyl's death behind him.

Third, the fairy tale element of the novel is introduced in Chapter 2. When Dorian wishes that Basil's portrait of him would age while he stays young, it should be simply an emotional outburst. It shouldn't have any more effect on the world than anything Basil or Henry say in Chapter 1. But it does. Something responds to Dorian's prayer. At various points in the narrative, Basil and Dorian speculate on how this might have happened, but Wilde never gives a definitive answer. The closest thing that Wilde offers in explanation is found here, in Chapter 2. This explanation seems to be that beauty, youth, and innocence have a power over the world that is almost metaphysical in its intensity.

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