The Picture of Dorian Gray | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Chapter 11 of The Picture of Dorian Gray what tension between intellect and faith is drawn out through Dorian Gray's attitudes about religion?

In Chapter 11 the narrator gives insight into Dorian's thoughts on Roman Catholic religious rituals. Dorian is attracted to religion, not because of what it offers him by way of making sense of his world but rather for its "superb rejection of the evidence of the senses." Although Dorian is fascinated by religious rituals, "he never fell into the error of arresting his intellectual development by any formal acceptance of creed or system." This passage explores the tension Dorian perceives between faith and intellect. To Dorian the acceptance of a religious creed requires the rejection of rational and sensory knowledge. In this regard Dorian Gray may be a stand-in for Wilde himself. Wilde had an interest in Roman Catholicism from an early age and finally converted to the religion as he lay on his deathbed in Paris.

In Chapter 6 of The Picture of Dorian Gray what does Dorian Gray's description of Sibyl playing Rosalind suggest about his sexual preferences?

In Chapter 6 Dorian Gray describes his encounter with Sibyl at the theater to Lord Henry Wotton. He begins with Sibyl's portrayal of Rosalind, the heroine of Shakespeare's play As You Like It. Dorian's first description of the woman he purports to love is: "Sibyl! You should have seen her! When she came on in her boy's clothes, she was perfectly wonderful." Dorian admires Rosalind not in her natural form but rather when she is dressed as Ganymede, the name she gives herself when she is in the boy's costume. This is significant because in Greek mythology, the god Zeus chooses the young male sheepherder Ganymede as his lover, thus condoning homosexual affairs in ancient Greek society. Dorian's romantic love for Sibyl blossoms not from her portrayal of female roles—though he does describe these other performances with admiration—but rather from her portrayal of a young man whose name is associated with homosexual relationships.

In Chapter 5 of The Picture of Dorian Gray what does the exchange between Sibyl Vane's mother and brother concerning Dorian Gray reveal?

The exchange between Sibyl's mother and her brother, James, in Chapter 5 serves two functions. First it gives Wilde an opportunity to display contemporary attitudes toward marriage, which he critiques as a social contract. This perspective is represented by Sibyl's mother, who says that a marriage to the as-yet-unnamed Dorian Gray would "be a most brilliant marriage for Sibyl," primarily because the suitor seems to be of the aristocracy. The second function of this exchange is to foreshadow the danger Sibyl will encounter as a result of her relationship with Dorian Gray. Jim, the protective brother who returns later to avenge her death, warns his mother against allowing a relationship to develop between Sybil and the "young dandy." He is clearly suspicious of Dorian Gray's character and motivations. From this exchange, the reader learns something about Victorian attitudes toward marriage and is alerted to upcoming danger for Sibyl.

In Chapter 7 of The Picture of Dorian Gray how does Wilde build suspense before revealing the truth about the changed picture of Dorian Gray?

Wilde builds a sense of foreboding as Dorian arrives home late after breaking up with Sibyl. The presence of his portrait startles him and seems to send him a puzzling subliminal message. When he examines the portrait, he sees a change in its face: "The expression looked different ... There was a touch of cruelty in the mouth." This causes some alarm, but after some contemplation he decides that the change in the painting "was merely an illusion wrought on the troubled senses." Wilde lets Dorian's anxiety simmer overnight, and the next day he wonders, "Was it all true? Had the portrait really changed?" His questioning of the reality of the prior night's events causes the reader to have the same questions, a technique Wilde uses to build suspense before unveiling the picture for confirmation. A series of delays follows. Dorian paces, lounges around, smokes cigarettes, and asks himself whether he should again examine the portrait. Though Dorian delays out of fear, these delays make the reader more eager for confirmation.

In Chapter 7 of The Picture of Dorian Gray why does Wilde personify the painting when Dorian Gray discovers its change?

In Chapter 7 Dorian Gray discovers that the painting has changed in the aftermath of his cruelty to Sibyl. At first the painting is presented as the inanimate object it is, but as Dorian examines the portrait closely it begins to take on human qualities. The painting is described as having power to influence Dorian's life. He ponders this, thinking, "It had taught him to love his own beauty. Would it teach him to loathe his own soul?" Then the portrait is depicted as "watching him, with its beautiful marred face ... Its blue eyes met his own." The painting now acquires the power of perception and, in meeting Dorian's eyes, an equivalence to the real man. By ascribing human qualities to the painting, Wilde blurs the boundaries between art and life.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray how is Dorian Gray similar to the character Faust in English playwright Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus?

Dorian Gray and Faust sell their souls for benefits in their lives. German scholar Faust makes a deal with Mephastophilis—also spelled Mephistopheles and Mephistophilis—a demon who serves Lucifer. In exchange for knowledge and supernatural power, Faust agrees his soul will belong to Lucifer. Toward the end of his life, Faust begs to be let out of his pact, but upon his death Lucifer claims his soul. Wilde borrows significantly from the Faust legend. In keeping with the aesthetic ideal, Dorian's deal grants him lasting beauty and youth. While Faust meets face to face with Mephastophilis and signs an actual contract, Dorian's pact is more subtle. In Chapter 2 Dorian meets Lord Henry (Wilde's version of Mephastophilis) and falls under the spell of his mellow voice and intriguing ideas. After absorbing Lord Henry's praise of his beauty and the warning that it will soon be lost, Dorian is stunned by the visual impact of his portrait. He then strikes a verbal devil's pact: "If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! ... I would give my soul for that!" Once the portrait's magic takes hold, Dorian's constantly youthful face gives him power over others, who presume him to be innocent despite his acts. Occasionally people recognize that Dorian is not what he seems to be, as when the woman in the opium den tells James Vane "he has sold himself to the devil for a pretty face." In Chapter 7 Dorian realizes Lord Henry's influence may be harmful. Discovering a transformation in the painting, he vows "he would not see Lord Henry any more—would not ... listen to those subtle poisonous theories." At the end of his life, rather than repenting or requesting mercy, Dorian seeks to destroy his transformed portrait—the physical evidence of his pact. Here Wilde collects on Dorian's supernatural debt. As in Dr. Faustus, justice is served when Dorian's lifetime of sins instantly transforms his physical body into an aged corpse and his portrait reverts to its youthful image.

In Chapter 8 of The Picture of Dorian Gray why do Dorian Gray and Lord Henry Wotton compare Sibyl Vane to Shakespeare's characters Desdemona, Ophelia, and Juliet?

Dorian's love for Sibyl seems to be more for the artist and her portrayal of Shakespearean characters than for the woman herself. When Lord Henry tells Dorian that Sibyl has committed suicide, they both compare her life and death to that of the Shakespearean heroines she enacted so vividly. Sibyl and the three Shakespearean characters all die because of their relationship with a man in their lives. Like Sibyl, Ophelia and Juliet each commit suicide because they have lost the loves of their lives. Ophelia drowns herself because Hamlet has rejected her, while Juliet stabs herself when she finds that Romeo has died. Desdemona is killed by her husband (Othello) because Iago convinces him that she has been unfaithful. Earlier—in Chapter 4—Dorian foreshadows Sibyl's death when he remembers that, when Sibyl played Juliet, he had seen her "die in the gloom of an Italian tomb, sucking the poison from her lover's lips." He goes on to describe her portrayal of Othello's Desdemona, "She has been innocent, and the black hands of jealousy have crushed her reedlike throat." In Chapter 8 following Sibyl's demise, Lord Henry acknowledges her resemblance to Shakespeare's characters yet wants to convince Dorian that he must consider her death as a work of art. He counsels "Mourn for Ophelia, if you like ... Cry out against Heaven because the daughter of Brabantio (Desdemona) died. But don't waste your tears over Sibyl Vane. She was less real than they are." He rationalizes Sibyl's death: "She was always a ... phantom that flitted through Shakespeare's plays and left them lovelier for its presence. ... The moment she touched actual life, she marred it, and it marred her, and so she passed away." Just as Ophelia and Juliet cannot cope with romantic disasters in their lives, Sibyl believes she cannot survive the loss of Dorian's love. Sibyl's professional life depended on art imitating life, largely through the tales of Shakespeare's women. Her death becomes an instance of life imitating art as she follows in Ophelia's footsteps.

In Chapter 9 of The Picture of Dorian Gray why does Wilde invoke the words and works of the French poet Gautier?

After Dorian and Lord Henry Wotton have discussed Sibyl Vane's suicide, Dorian turns in Chapter 9 to the French poet Gautier to calm himself. In fact he cites Gautier's concept of being comforted by the arts (la consolation des artes) in his conversation with Basil to defend his position that there is nothing upsetting about Sibyl's passing. He declares, "It is one of the great romantic tragedies of the age." Here Dorian conflates real life with drama, and in doing so he consoles himself with his theory of art. Wilde is well known for his belief that life should imitate art, and Dorian adopts a stance that Sibyl's death is a good thing because it imitates the art of the theater.

In Chapter 7 of The Picture of Dorian Gray how does Wilde use an allusion to Shakespeare's The Tempest to characterize Dorian Gray, Sibyl Vane, and Mr. Isaacs?

In Chapter 7 when Dorian goes to the theater to see Sibyl Vane, he encounters first the theater manager, Mr. Isaacs. Dorian feels "as if he had come to look for Miranda and had been met by Caliban." In Shakespeare's The Tempest Miranda is the young, uncorrupted, beautiful daughter of King Prospero. The root of her name is the Latin verb mirari, which means "to admire," just as Dorian admires the beauty of Sibyl Vane. Caliban, on the other hand, is Miranda and Prospero's slave. The half-human son of the witch Sycorax, Caliban is called a monster by the play's other characters. By likening the real-life Mr. Isaacs to the theatrical character Caliban, Dorian reveals his revulsion for the theater manager. Wilde's allusion also supports the theme of art versus life.

In Chapter 9 of The Picture of Dorian Gray how does Wilde create dramatic irony?

In Chapter 9 Basil Hallward comes to visit Dorian Gray to tell him of Sibyl Vane's death. Before Basil leaves he asks why there is a screen in front of Dorian's portrait. Dorian refuses to show the painting to Basil and threatens that if Basil himself removes the screen, Dorian will never speak to him again. Dramatic irony is at play in this scene, because—while Basil has no idea why Dorian won't let him view the painting—the reader knows that Dorian cannot allow him to see that the portrait has changed. This situation causes conflict between these good friends and shows evolution in Dorian's character. Since the conflict is left unresolved at the end of the chapter—Basil still has no idea why Dorian would refuse to show him his own painting—the plot is advanced by the need for future resolution.

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