Who is Dorian Gray?
Dorian Gray is an exceptionally attractive young man who has been befriended by the painter Basil Hallward. At the beginning of the story, Basil is discussing Dorian, the subject of his most recent painting, with his friend Lord Henry Wotton. Lord Henry tells Basil that the portrait is his best work, and he wants to know more about the man it represents. Basil says that, when he first saw Dorian at a party, “’[He] knew that [he] had come face to face with some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if [he] allowed it to do so, it would absorb [his] whole nature, [his] whole soul, [his] very art itself.’” Inspired by Dorian’s innocence and goodness and beauty, Basil has made a point to see him every day, even if only for a few minutes, because, as he says, “’[…] a few minutes with somebody one worships mean a great deal.’” Dorian has become Basil’s muse, his inspiration, his idol, and Basil believes that the work he’s done since he met Dorian is the best work he’s ever done.
Basil is devoted to Dorian, and this is why he asks Lord Henry to stay away from him. Perhaps he sees a kernel of cruelty in Dorian that, if cultivated by someone like Lord Henry, will grow. He says that he occasionally feels as though he has “given away [his] whole soul to some one who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat” because Dorian can be “horribly thoughtless” at times “and seems to take a real delight in giving [him] pain.” Thus, Dorian’s nature does include a capacity for mercilessness, even in the beginning.
Despite Basil’s request, however, Lord Henry befriends and corrupts Dorian, influencing him to see the world in terms of the pleasure it can offer him instead of in terms of what is right and good. In the meantime, Basil has given Dorian the portrait, but the friends grow further and further apart as a result of Lord Henry’s effect on Dorian. Therefore, Dorian Gray is a good man who is too easily corrupted by pleasure, and he becomes a hedonist who cares little to nothing for others and seeks only to gratify himself. He ultimately kills Basil, providing further evidence of his moral declension.