The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is a well-crafted story of extreme beauty and even more extreme hedonism. It is also a story filled with psychological analysis, both of Lord Henry analyzing Dorian and of the reader analyzing all the characters and the story in general. Art is a key theme in the book, and the artist and his subject also play important roles in showcasing the beauty of youth, as well as beauty in general. A passage from the book that I believe epitomizes the entire story and its feel is the conversation backstage between Dorian Gray and Sibyl Vane after her first listless performance. She is an exquisitely talented and lovely actress whose skill upon the stage leads Dorian to fall in love with her. He goes to see her every night and marvels at her ability to play multiple characters so beautifully. However, one fateful night, she acts without feeling or emotion, and confused, Dorian goes backstage to discover why. She says that she did it because her work and subsequent “loves” on the stage pale in comparison to the actual love that she has for Dorian. This infuriates him and thoroughly disappoints his image of her as an actress.
She says: “Don’t be cruel to me, because I love you better than anything in the world. After all, it is only once that I have not pleased you. But you are quite right, Dorian. I should have shown myself more of an artist. It was foolish of me; and yet I couldn’t help it. Oh, don’t leave me, don’t leave me!” A fit of passionate sobbing choked her. She crouched on the floor like a wounded thing, and Dorian Gray, with his beautiful eyes, looked down at her, and his chiseled lips curled in exquisite disdain. There is always something ridiculous about the emotion of people whom one has ceased to love. Sibyl Vane seemed to him to be absurdly melodramatic. Her tears and sobs annoyed him.
This passage is an excellent example of good storytelling in the novel because it shows the theme of pleasure that consistently reappears throughout the novel. Because of Lord Henry’s (his friend) influence, Dorian becomes more and more hedonistic and believes his life to be like a Greek or Shakespearean play in which he is the perfect Greek sculpture and everyone around him must live to suit his romantic fancies. And his simple discarding of Sibyl Vane after she has ruined herself in his eyes because she has forgone her art is a prime indicator of the future path this interesting novel is taking.