In Chapter 20 of The Photo of Dorian Gray, Dorian is presented to us as a figure torn in between reforming and alleviating himself from the sin and corruption he has perpetuated on others, and pursuing his exclamatory yearning for his “unsullied splendour of eternal youth” to return. Above all, the death of Dorian can just be analyzed by asserting his relationship to his picture; the “fatal photo”, in which Wilde’s diction recommends it acts as a ruthless pointer for his deteriorating soul and his real self, or as simply a symbol of a greater social force on Dorian. Thus, just with this can one judge whether Dorian genuinely died by murder, suicide or by mishap.
At the beginning of the chapter, Wilde utilizes pitiful misconception to communicate the “charming night” which might coincide with Dorian’s fundamental sensation of contentment and his ego-centricity and narcissism in regards to his relief that he is safe. This, is mirrored in previous parts of the novel, such as after James Vane’s death, where Wilde bathetically recalls how Dorian’s “eyes filled with tears, for he understood he was safe”. The pleasing, opulent noble setting of the “charming night” echoes the synaesthesia previously used in Lord Henry’s lavishing “apricot-coloured” environment, does mirror Dorian’s narcissism, however to a greater extent, the setting is oxymoronic against the sense of anxiousness and underlying apathy in Dorian. As affected by Lord Henry’s Hedonistic aphorisms and the “poisonous” images epitomising the impact of the Yellow Book promoting a “complex, multiform creature”, he looks for to “search for new feelings” (an allusion to Pater’s Rennaissance). Nevertheless, Wilde’s purposeful repetitious usage of the previous best tense and totally free indirect discourse in “He had typically”, “she had actually thought” recommends Dorian’s remorse and apathy towards pursuing satisfaction. This is seen in his interaction with the lady whom he had actually “tempted to love him” however told her he was “poor” and “wicked” suggesting how Dorian is on one hand compensating perhaps a similar scenario with Sybil by not damaging the lady, as the imagery of the “thrush” echoes the “caged song-bird” that Dorian had been accountable for the suicide of. This maybe underlies Dorian’s regret and longing to change, further seen in the alliterative aphorism “There was filtration in punishment” recommending how Dorian wishes that each of his sins would’ve resulted in punishment. On the other hand, one could argue that his declare to the girl represents his desperation to begin “A new life!”, hence indicating Dorian is torn but is more likely to overlook instead of deal with the consequences of his actions that will inevitability lead him to his death.
Furthermore, Dorian’s relationship with the picture is paramount in concerns to whether his death is murder, suicide or accident. Jonah Siegel argues, “Dorian’s death is less a sign of moral failure, than an indicator of the failure of his historicism.” Undoubtedly, one can argue it is to a higher degree that Dorian’s growing loathing for his portrait to squash it into “silver splinters” represents the failure of his historicism. This arguable externalisation of Dorian’s conscience could mirror the Victorian society’s crushing judgement on Wilde himself, for being a homosexual, and the hypocrisy widespread in the 19th century that developed itself on a façade of ethical rectitude and piety with the “silver splinters” serving as the foundation of its vice, corruption and hardship. The sibilant image here could symbolise how Dorian stops working to realise that he can never ever return to how he was, and the “silver splinters” can never ever be rebuilt. However, I believe Dorian’s death is entirely a sign of ethical failure. His stabbing of the portrait was never ever implied to act as a divine retribution for his crimes, as he never understands that in doing what he does, it will destroy him. Therefore, Dorian’s death suggests ethical failure, as he dies through attempting to conserve himself, implying his narcissism that essentially led to the forming of his Faustian pact with his picture, led him to his inexorable death.
It can be argued that Dorian’s death is triggered by Dorian’s disjunction between his inner and outer lives, and to what extent Dorian truly died or not. Andrew Smith exclaims, “Dorian’s death represents the inability to be genuine … and the failure to be synthetic”. On one hand, Dorian fails to be “authentic” in the sense that, if the code of the vicarious flaneur like Lord Henry commemorates individualism (declaratively encapsulated in “the aim of live is self-development”), Dorian fails due to the fact that he stops working to establish and live by his own moral code. Furthermore, it can be seen that Dorian stops working to be artificial, as he ceases to represent Art, staying young and beautiful whilst his painting exhibits his corruption. However, I disagree to an extent with Smith’s paradoxical criticism. In ‘The Decay of Lying’, Wilde specified, “Life mimics Art … life in fact tis the mirror, and Art the reality”. Therefore, despite the fact that Dorian’s sin accrued in the picture is not shown through his look, such as Basil’s death and Sybil’s suicide, it remains exhibited through the portrait as the truth, and Dorian’s choices and actions mirror this. This concept of Art acting as the reality mirroring life, was seen in Walter Sickett’s paintings communicating the ruthlessness of life as appeal, seen in his portrait apparently recognizing Jack the Ripper.
Finally, it is disputable whether in Chapter 20, Dorian in fact dies. It can be argued that when Dorian exclaims: “His appeal had actually been to him but a mask”, the caveat “to him” suggesting an uncertainty, repeating his ripped nature at this portrait. It can be argued therefore the original Dorian without a mask was prior to he satisfied Lord Henry and fell under his influence, encapsulated in the asyndetic “dangerous, fascinating, delightful theories” which is replete with oxymorons. Therefore in a sense Dorian’s beauty might function as a mask for his already dying soul, therefore he was never ever truly himself when he passed away, simply playing simply an aping of Lord Henry’s, “an echo of somebody else’s music”. In contrast, Wilde himself mentioned, “Offer a male a mask, and he’ll tell the reality” suggesting Dorian’s beauty was the fact and was truth, so it was his real self that died.