What are some literary devices used in The Picture of Dorian Gray?

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kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde uses a number of literary techniques to develop his characters and to enhance some of the novel's key themes.

Allusions, for example, are widely used in Chapter One to reveal more about Dorian's appearance and character. He is likened to Adonis, a man of great beauty from Greek mythology, to demonstrate his visual appeal to the reader. He is also likened to Narcissus, another figure from Greek mythology, who fell in love with his own image and died because he could not stop looking at himself in the reflection of a pond. By including this allusion, Wilde also foreshadows Dorian's future and suggests that his self-love will develop into an unhealthy obsession.

Wilde also uses a number of symbols in the novel. The portrait, for example, becomes a living representation of Dorian's soul which degrades as his levels of vice and immorality increase.  It also represents the unavoidable process of ageing which Dorian is so keen to prevent. In addition, the yellow  book, given to Dorian by Lord Henry, is another important symbol because it demonstrates Lord Henry's corrupting influence on the young Dorian.

Witty sayings, called epigrams, are also an important feature of Dorian Gray. They not only enhance Wilde's lively writing style but also reveal much about the character of Lord Henry. He uses them, for example, to add a humorous element to his negative views on women:

Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly.

That Dorian emulates Lord Henry's use of epigrams illustrates the extent of the latter's influence. One example comes from Chapter Four when Dorian speaks of Sybil Vane:

Ordinary women never appeal to one's imagination. They are limited to their century.

Furthermore, these epigrams are often ironic or paradoxical in nature:

There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that it not being talked about.

This use of irony suggests that Lord Henry and Dorian are superficial people; they are driven by a need to appear to be witty and intelligent. Dorian captures this idea in Chapter 19:

You would sacrifice anybody, Harry, for the sake of an epigram.

Unfortunately, Dorian's realisation comes too late: he cannot be redeemed from his life of vice and corruption as we see most clearly in his untimely demise.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray

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