Attention Getter: Throughout the novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian Gray falls in love, not only with a portrait of himself, but also with the idea of his life as an art form.
General background: Lord Henry espouses the idea that life is a production in its own right and that people are merely the actors and actresses of the grand play. Henry shares this view with Dorian almost immediately within the novel and Dorian quickly adopts this principle into his own life and romantic pursuits. In particular, Dorian abides by the ideals of Lord Henry when pursuing his short-term romance with Sibyl Vane.
Thesis: Throughout the novel, readers see Lord Henry’s influence reflected in Dorian’s view of Sibyl as a kind of living art form and when Sibyl destroys this illusion of herself, Dorian’s view of her is destroyed.
Point 1: Lord Henry’s influence
Topic sentence: Throughout the novel, Dorian is heavily influenced by Lord Henry.
Textual example: “a girl, hardly seventeen years of age, with a little flower-like face, a small Greek head with plaited coils of dark-brown hair, eyes that were violet wells of passion, lips that were like the petals of a rose. She was the loveliest thing I had ever seen in my life” (Wilde 50)
Explanation: He focuses on primarily physical features of her, confirming his concern for aestheticism over realism. He wants her to be something she’s not, in this case a violet.
Transition to next paragraph: This is only the beginning of Dorian’s attempt to see Sibyl in his own conception versus reality.
Point 2: Dorian’s view of Sibyl as an artist during life
Topic sentence: Dorian’s conception of Sibyl reflects his perception of her as an artist rather than a living, breathing person.
Textual example: In anticipation of the play, Dorian focuses not on Sibyl as a person, but on the art that she creates. His view of her as an artist is clearly articulated in him saying of Sibyl, “The curtain rises and you will see the girl to whom I am going to give all my life, to whom I have given everything that is good in me” (Wilde 80).
Explanation: His emphasis on the rising of the curtain reflects the value of her art in his view. It is important to note that he does not introduce his friends to Sibyl before they watch her on the stage. Instead, he maintains that they must see her in performance first, which further confirms his desire to view her purely in relation to the art that she produces.
Transition: Unfortunately, for Dorian, Sibyl’s performance does not live up to his expectations, in essence destroying Sibyl as an artist.
Point 3: Dorian’s break-up with Sibyl
Topic sentence: In the aftermath of Sibyl’s performance, Dorian confronts her about the poor performance she produced.
Textual Example: In confronting Sibyl, Dorian proclaims, “You have killed my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect. I loved you because you were marvelous, because you had genius and intellect, because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art” (Wilde 85).
Explanation: Dorian confirms what readers previously thought to be true: that he only appreciated the art that Sibyl produces as an actress. In Dorian’s concluding line, he acknowledges that Sibyl “gave shape and substance to the shadows of art,” exemplifying his value of her in relation to her art (Wilde 85). Once Sibyl destroyed her art form, she also destroyed the Dorian’s conception of her.
Restatement of thesis: In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian’s adoption of Lord Henry’s principles is so prominent that he only views Sibyl as an art form.
Summary of main points: Dorian becomes so entranced by Lord Henry’s philosophy of Hedonism that he only appreciates Sibyl Vane for the artistic quality that she can provide for his life. When Sibyl can no longer be the art that Dorian so adores, his illusion of her is completely destroyed.
So-what: Lord Henry’s appreciation for Hedonism often encourages the idea of pursuing pleasure, even if it ultimately harms others. After Dorian breaks Sibyl’s heart, she ends her own life. Rather than feeling any sort of remorse for his own fault, Lord Henry encourages Dorian to view it as a tragic conclusion to a play. In focusing predominantly on the artist quality that Sibyl provides for his life, in her life and death, Dorian is able to treat her as a mere pawn in the game of his life.