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Symbolism in a story, novel or a poem entails the use of a symbol that has a deeper meaning and symbolizes something else. Symbolism is one of the main themes that have been extensively used in the book “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde. These themes include the portrait, the yellow book, cigarette, collieries, cigarettes and the laburnum.
The opium tainted cigarette in the book “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is a representation of the corrupt lifestyle of Lord Henry. Lord Henry is a selfish character who claims to have the whole world at his palms and instead of doing something creative to the humanity, he is a person who conducts his activities in a self-indulgent manner. He is only concerned with his own pleasure, not even his friend matter to him. For instance, Basil who is one of his best friends back from the University disappears for a long period, and Henry is not concerned about his whereabouts. The cigarette is a symbol of how Lord Henry vies people and life in general (Oscar 56).
The portrait of the picture is itself a symbol in the book. Actually, it is the main symbol that is used by the author; the portrait is a symbolic representation of the state of Dorian's soul as it is like a living allegory, an observable interpretation of the soul of Dorian. Essentially, the picture is a representation of Dorian’s inner self that turns out to be uglier every minute and for every crime that he commits. The image of true existence is represented in the portrait as his soul becomes more corrupt (Oscar 76). Its evil is portrayed on the surface of the canvas.
The yellow book is another symbol in the book; the author uses the yellow book to show the influence of corruption that Lord Henry has on the youth, the book is given to Dorian by Lord Henry. Basically, the yellow book is a symbolic representation of poisonous influence that Lord Henry has on Dorian, Dorian is given the book as an experiment and it works well as the book acts to be a guide book for the evil acts of Dorian. As a result, Dorian lives his entire life in search of the yellow book’s ideals. It is Lord Henry's mistake for poisoning Dorian with the yellow book that comes to stand in for Henry’s entire spendthrift, selfishness and severely seductive idealistic ideas (Oscar 88).
Collieries and the laburnum in the book are symbols too; Lord Fermor's collieries represent the repression of the under classes whereas the laburnum represents the one of the primary symbols in the book as it is seen in the following extract from the text, Chapter 1: "Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-colored blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flame like as theirs". “A laburnum is a poisonous tree of the pea family". Indeed Dorian appears to be "poisonous" to many people and he is like the laburnum, it is hard for him to bear "the burden of beauty." The symbol of the laburnum seems to foretell a lot of plot developments of the book (Oscar 76).
The use of many symbols in the book “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is the significance in the ways the different symbols portray the different aspects such as the character of Lord Henry. Oscar Wilde's book “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is a classic example of the aestheticism of the 19th century's English literature and the application of symbolism enable the reader to have a greater understanding of the character. Accruing to Oscar Wilde, "All art is at once surface and symbol” (Oscar 145).