The Picture of Dorian Gray | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray | Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 5 opens with Sibyl Vane telling Mrs. Vane, her mother, how happy Dorian makes her, although she calls her suitor "Prince Charming" since he has never told her his name. Her mother counters that they owe the theater manager, Mr. Isaacs, a lot of money, so Sibyl must focus on her acting. Sibyl wonders why Prince Charming loves her so much; she apologizes for talking about love when love never worked out for her mother. Mrs. Vane claims Sibyl is inconsiderate to enter into a relationship right now, what with her brother, James, about to leave for Australia. Showing hypocrisy, which she would consider practicality, Mrs. Vane says that if Sibyl's "Prince" is rich, a relationship might actually be a good thing.

James enters. Sixteen years of age, he's rather rough around the edges and clumsy—and ready to leave London so he can make his fortune. Although he is unhappy about leaving his family, he wants to earn enough to support his mother and sister so they won't have to act. He's worried about the relationship between Sibyl and this Prince Charming, and he takes Sibyl out for a walk so they can talk without their mother present. Sibyl shares her rosy and naive thoughts about what the future holds for her younger brother—whom she calls "Jim." James is very protective toward Sibyl and expresses his concern about Prince Charming. He has a deep dislike for the upper classes and automatically distrusts the Prince because he's a "gentleman." He is also suspicious because Sibyl doesn't know her suitor's name. They go back to Sibyl's room and then part. In a final conversation with his mother, James confronts her about their father and learns that the two were not married. He calls his father a "scoundrel," but Mrs. Vane defends the man, saying they'd been in love. James swears that if Prince Charming hurts Sibyl he will hunt the man down and kill him.

Analysis

This is the first chapter in which Wilde shifts his focus away from Dorian, Henry, and Basil. He now focuses on another group of three: Sibyl, her mother, and her brother. The members of these two groups could not be more different, and Wilde uses the differences to foreshadow Sibyl's downfall. The members of Dorian's trio are all upper-class gentlemen—they have money and position, both of which buy them a great deal of freedom to act as they please. The Vane family members are poor and in debt. Their actions are restricted by their social and economic conditions, and so James is right to be concerned about the class conflict between Sibyl and her "Prince."

An innocent pursuing a personal fantasy, Sibyl has been influenced during childhood by her mother's wildly theatrical sense of what life ought to be like, although it rarely lives up to her expectations. After nearly 20 years Mrs. Vane clings to the notion that her relationship with her upper-class, married lover was both romantic and honorable—and that only death prevented her lover from making financial provisions for her and the children. That Sibyl is content to know Dorian only as "Prince Charming"—a fairy tale hero—demonstrates how far from reality their relationship is. This reliance on childlike imaginings supports the themes of appearance versus reality and art versus life—and should serve as a warning to Sibyl (and the reader) about how badly things will end.

The introduction here of another key plot element—James Vane's promise to find and kill Prince Charming if he hurts Sibyl—provides an example of foreshadowing that will hang over the story for many chapters.

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