The Dangers of Immortality: Wilde’s Use of the Shadow of Beauty

1. Introduction

Oscar Wilde’s novel “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” is one of the most famous works of English literature, which has been translated into many languages and adapted for stage and screen several times. The novel tells the story of a young man named Dorian Gray, who sells his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. As the years go by, Dorian remains young and handsome, while his portrait hidden in the attic slowly starts to reflect his immoral lifestyle and ugly deeds.

One of the main themes of the novel is immortality, which is symbolized by the portrait itself. Wilde’s use of the shadow of beauty is one of the most important aspects of the novel, as it allows him to explore the idea of what it means to be truly immortal.

2. Wilde’s Use of the Shadow of Beauty
2.1 Dorian’s Character

Dorian Gray is a young man who is incredibly beautiful and handsome. However, he is also very selfish and narcissistic. Throughout the course of the novel, Dorian becomes more and more evil as he indulges in his own pleasure without any thought for others. He murders Basil Hallward, who painted his portrait, because he believes that Basil was beginning to suspect his secret. He also ruins the life of Sibyl Vane, a young actress whom he claims to love, by convincing her to give up her career in order to be with him.

Dorian’s character represents the dangers of immortality. He is proof that eternal youth and beauty does not necessarily make a person happy or good. In fact, it seems to have the opposite effect on Dorian. The longer he lives, the more evil he becomes.

2. 2 Lord Henry’s Role

Lord Henry Wotton is one of the most important characters in the novel, as he is responsible for introducing Dorian to the concept of immortality. It is through Lord Henry’s words that Dorian first learns about the shadow of beauty and begins to believe that it is possible to achieve eternal youth and beauty.

Lord Henry represents the voice of temptation in the novel. He constantly urges Dorian to indulge in his own pleasure and to live a life without consequences. It is because of Lord Henry’s influence that Dorian becomes evil and morally corrupt.

3. The Importance of Love

One of the other important themes in “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” is love. Wilde explores what it means to love someone truly and selflessly. When Dorian first meets Sibyl Vane, he falls in love with her instantly but it soon becomes clear that his love for her is not genuine. He only loves her because she is beautiful and because she makes him feel good about himself. When she loses her beauty (by giving up her acting career), he quickly abandons her and leaves her to ruin her life.

It is only when Dorian meets Hetty Merton, a poor working girl, that he begins to understand what it means to love someone truly. Hetty loves him unconditionally and she does not care about his wealth or social status. For once in his life, Dorian feels loved for who he is rather than what he looks like on the outside.

4. Acting as a Mere Shadow of Beauty

Throughout the novel, Wilde uses the shadow of beauty to explore the idea of immortality. He suggests that immortal beings are not necessarily happy or good. In fact, they often become evil and corrupt.

Wilde also suggests that immortal beings are merely shadows of their former selves. They may look the same on the outside but their souls have been corrupted by their own selfish desires.

5. Conclusion

“The Portrait of Dorian Gray” is a timeless classic that explores the dangers of immortality and the corrupting effects of selfishness and narcissism. Wilde’s use of the shadow of beauty is one of the most important aspects of the novel, as it allows him to explore these themes in a unique and fascinating way.


Wilde portrays immorality in his novel in a number of ways. He shows how Dorian's increasing immoral behaviour leads to his character change, and how this affects the people around him. Wilde also explores how amoral characters can have a negative influence on those who are trying to remain moral. Ultimately, Wilde condemns Dorian's actions, as they lead to his downfall.

As Dorian becomes more involved in immoral activities, his character begins to change. He becomes more selfish and narcissistic, and starts to care less about the people around him. His once-innocent personality begins to fade away, replaced by a dark and dangerous persona.

There is one character in the novel who remains moral despite being surrounded by amoral characters and events: Basil Hallward. Even though he is friends with Dorian and knows about his immoral behaviour, Basil continues to try and be a good person himself. In the end, however, he pays the price for remaining loyal to Dorian.

Wilde ultimately condemns Dorian's actions because they lead to his downfall. While at first it may seem like Wilde is condoning Dorian's behaviour (as he leads a life of luxury and pleasure), it is clear that Wilde does not approve of the way in which Dorian has obtained these things.