“Names are everything”(223) is perhaps Oscar Wilde’s most veiled yet crucial message portrayed in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Through the use of precise and selective diction, Oscar Wilde portrays the characterization of Dorian Gray, the protagonist, in the form of his name. By choosing the names Dorian and Gray, traits of Dorian are hinted subliminally by Wilde deserving more consideration when he declares that “names are everything”(223).
Dorian is a Galeic name meaning of strong, turbulent and conflicting emotion, a characteristic of Dorian during his bursts of evil and sin doing and especially in his moments of doubt and uncertainty regarding sexuality, the portrait and good and evil. Dorian’s last name, Gray, also characterizes him as according to ethics, gray is used to describe situations that have no clear moral value, omnipresent throughout the book after Lord Henry influences Dorian with his deplorable ways. Gray not only has a moral connotation but may associate with the idea of no definite identity.
Gray is neither black nor white, it is in the middle and represents no definite side. A person that is described as gray is one who does not takes a stand in things, has no definite personality and this applies to Dorian through his conflicting emotions. The first situation in which Dorian experiences a genuine conflict of his emotions is his first contact with his portrait. In chapter 2, Dorian recognizes his beauty and because of this feels an inner satisfaction that is interrupted when he questions Basil’s intentions in painting such a portrait if it will mock him with its beauty someday.
In this section, Dorian’s dual reaction to the portrait represents the definition of his name Dorian, strong conflicting emotions. Even though on page 245 Dorian says, “But I never really liked it. I am sorry I sat for it. The memory of the thing is hateful to me”, the importance he gives to beauty, a theme of the novel developed thoroughly by Wilde, allows us to interpret that this symbol of beauty will never be rejected by him. Wilde reinforces the definition of Dorian of conflicting emotion regarding Dorian Gray’s struggle between his sexuality preference, explicit in Chapter 4 when Dorian declares to Lord Henry that “…
a voice can stir one. Your voice and the voice of Sibyl Vane are two things that I shall never forget”(57). Although subtle in the book, a clear relationship of Dorian, Lord Henry and Basil Hallward is present in the book beyond friendship and admiration. Throughout the book Wilde shows choices of Dorian to go with Henry to a bar or jealous remarks of Lord Henry describing Dorian’s love for Sybil a “silly infatuation “(87) and the gloom experienced by Basil when Wilde describes him as “silent and preoccupied” and “not being able to bear the marriage since he felt that Dorian Gray would never be to him all that he had been in the past”(94).
Sybil Vane however contradicts this homosexual choice of Dorian’s as on page 69 of Chapter 5, Wilde says that “She was free in her prison of passion. Her prince, Prince Charming, was with her. She called on memory to remake him. She had sent her soul to search for him, and had brought him back. His kiss burned again upon her mouth. Her eyelids were warm with his breath” describing a romantic encounter of Sybil and Dorian which proves his heterosexuality as he proposes to her.
The last genuine emotions conflict of Dorian is one of morals regarding good, evil, pleasure and love. Dorian struggles with the fact that he loves Henry which he knows towards the end of the novel is a bad influence, a love that could be symbolized as a love for evil and sin. This uncontrollable love is seen on pages 93 and 94 of Chapter 6 in which he states, “Harry, you are dreadful! I don’t know why I like you so much” and Lord Henry responds, “You will always like me, Dorian. I represent to you all the sins you have never had the courage to commit”.
Wilde makes Dorian’s attraction to evil not explicit solely in this passage but also by Dorian’s choice of Lord Henry, evil, over Basil, good. In these few sentences, Dorian’s attraction to evil is made explicit and its application to his life evident in his homosexual love triangle. Although this attraction prevails, Dorian does have his moments of good as on page 109 of Chapter 8 when he mentions to Lord Henry, “I know what conscience is, to begin with. It is not what you told me it was. It is the divinest thing in us. Don’t sneer at it, Harry, any more-at least not before me.
I want to be good. I can’t bear the idea of my soul being hideous”, a confession of Dorian that demonstrates his capacity to see how evil is deceiving and how he is good-willed yet the temptation and evil is stronger and prevalent. A similar thought is seen on page 240 when Dorian says, “No, Harry, I have done too many dreadful things in my life. I am not going to do anymore. I began my good actions yesterday”, a clear demonstration of how Dorian strives for salvation, an effort ended when Dorian discovers that it is too late to recover his vile actions.