The Picture of Dorian Gray By Oscar Wilde Summary and Analysis Chapter 16

Summary

As Dorian rides toward his destination, he recalls Lord Henry's saying, the first day they met, "To cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul." Dorian intends to do just that. He is heading for an opium den, where old sins are forgotten and new ones found. Dorian craves opium. He feels afraid, and he is certain that there is no way to atone for his sins. The best he can hope for is to forget. In just three days, he thinks, he can find freedom by losing himself in the drug.

The carriage arrives at the intended destination, and Dorian enters the shabby inn. At the end of the hall inside, he pulls aside a tattered curtain and enters a long, dark, low room. Dorian climbs a small staircase at the end of the room, leading to an even darker room.

In the upper chamber, Dorian finds Adrian Singleton, one of the young men whom Basil accused Dorian of corrupting. However, Dorian decides not to stay. Adrian's presence bothers him; he prefers to be where no one knows him. At times, Dorian thinks he sees Basil's eyes following him.

Dorian calls Adrian to the bar for a farewell shot of brandy. A woman approaches Dorian, but he gives her some money and tells her to leave. She is not so easily dissuaded. As Dorian is leaving, she shouts after him: "Prince Charming is what you like to be called, ain't it?" Her shouting startles a drowsy sailor who looks around rabidly and hurries out in pursuit of Dorian.

Dorian hurries toward a different opium den. As he takes a short cut through a den archway, someone suddenly grabs him from behind and shoves him against a wall, his hand choking Dorian, who hears the click of a revolver.

The man who chokes Dorian is James Vane, brother of Sibyl Vane, the actress who killed herself eighteen years before. He has sought Dorian, not even knowing the real name of "Prince Charming" all this time. Having heard his sister's pet name for the "gentleman" who did her wrong, James feels certain that he finally has found the cad. Dorian denies ever knowing the girl and asks how long ago this all took place. When James replies that it was eighteen years, Dorian laughs triumphantly and implores James merely to look at him under a nearby street lamp. James sees the face of a twenty-year-old lad. Clearly, he has erred. He apologizes and releases Dorian, who disappears into the night.

As James stands trembling at his mistake, the woman from the bar appears and asks why James did not kill Dorian. The woman bitterly tells him that it has been eighteen years since "Prince Charming" made her what she is. She swears this before God and adds, "They say he sold himself to the devil for a pretty face." She asks James for money for her room that night, but he is interested only in pursuing Dorian. Dorian, however, is gone.

Analysis

In some of the finest descriptive writing in the novel, Wilde finally allows the reader to see Dorian's secret world. The opening paragraphs of the chapter set the scene for taking the reader into the hell that is Dorian's chosen life.

The opium den is a city of lost souls, a city that Dorian easily moves within. Appropriately, Dorian muses on his own salvation as he rides toward the den. True to the Faust legend, he is certain that he has no hope for atonement. He believes that forgiveness is not possible. The best he can hope for is the numb of opium.

Most important in this chapter is that the reader sees Dorian suffering from a physical as well as a mental addiction. His hands tremble as he rides to the opium den, and the reader can only surmise that he is heading to the den to satisfy both a physical and a mental need. Although Dorian may not age, he has not escaped the personal prison created by his own desires. Even in the opium den, he can't escape the paranoid feeling that Basil's eyes are watching him. Dorian's physical and mental addiction to opium is significant because it is the first sign the reader sees that although Dorian cannot be destroyed by nature, he can destroy himself.

Wilde's descriptive style in this chapter is Gothic in its grotesque, macabre, and fantastic imagery and chilling detail. He fashions a mood of desolation and despair. His similes, which appear seldom in other chapters, are very effective in relating the grimness of the world Dorian now occupies. He creates revealing similarities with the use of "like" and "as" — for example, the "moon hung low in the sky like a yellow skull," and the streets are "like the black web of some sprawling spider." Note that the moon resembles a "yellow skull," an allusion to death that so pervades the novel in these late chapters.

In no small way, the dangers of excess even threaten Dorian's Aestheticism. Instead of admiring beauty, he craves ugliness. He once detested ugliness because it made things too real, but now he pursues it as his one reality: "The coarse brawl, the loathsome den, the crude violence of disordered life, the very vileness of thief and outcast, were more vivid, in their intense factuality of impression, than all the gracious shapes of art, the dreamy shadows of song." Wilde reveals the dangers of Aestheticism gone so wrong that it is the opposite of itself. At the same time, Wilde is not teaching or preaching. As he says in the preface to the novel, there is no such thing as a "moral" or "immoral" book. Books are simply written well or badly. In this chapter, Wilde writes very, very well.

Glossary

quay a wharf where ships are loaded and unloaded.

merchantman a commercial ship.

coaling filling up with coal.

mackintosh a waterproof raincoat.

Malays native people of Malaysia, Indonesia, and surrounding areas.

marionettes puppets manipulated by strings.

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