Wrestling with a Conscience

Is it possible to sin without consequences?

While reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, a question arose in my mind: Had it been another in Dorian’s shoes, perhaps Lord Henry, would he have been doomed to the same emotional anguish and eventual demise? Why exactly did Dorian face the horrible consequences of his sin? Both James Vane and Basil Hallward, his only sources of moral reckoning, were dead. Why, then, could he not continue relishing in his decadent lifestyle?

It is because, despite seemingly having every chance to escape repercussion, he had two weakness: a guilty conscience and a fear of facing consequences. In a relentless sinner, these are tragic flaws.





In chapter two, Lord Henry utters the enticing words, “We are punished for our refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind, and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification. . . . Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the world take place also.”


According to Lord Henry, the sins one commits exist only because of the lie that they are, in fact, sins. With such logic, the only reason an action seems “monstrous and unlawful” is because of arbitrary laws – the real monsters. It follows that, sins being imaginary, the “sinner” should face no real consequences for an imagined sin. In fact, Lord Henry claims that sinning is beneficial, “an act of purification”,  rather than something deserving of punishment.


It is easy to understand why Lord Henry so quickly intoxicates Dorian with his words. Denying oneself of something desired seems excruciating, even masochistic at times. With the logic expressed in the above quote, the solution seems simple – relent to desire, relieve your pain with sin, be done with it. However, it is never that simple. Like the opium that becomes symbolic of Dorian’s sins, sinning itself is addictive. It is never enough to sin once, especially when there are no immediate personal consequences. Through his portrait, Dorian had seemingly found a way to sin unscathed. However, considering the outcome of his lascivious lifestyle, it is clear he did not escape consequences. Why?


Each time Dorian was confronted with a reckoning for his actions, he managed to temporarily escape. However, his escapism was simply prolonging the inevitable for, in the end, one can not escape a working conscience. In chapter thirteen, Basil meets with Dorian’s soul and, horrified, begs him to repent, saying, “ Pray Dorian…lead us not into temptation. Forgive our sins, Wash away our iniquities.” These words cause Dorian to feel like “ a hunted animal”. In a rush of defensive fury, Dorian kills basil, in effect silencing his conscience, and, as a result, feels “strangely calm”. He soon becomes intensely troubled by his actions that night, displaying classic signs of a conscience plagued by guilt. Dorian, although guilty, feels no remorse, for he has never experienced the consequences of his sins. However, when confronted with such consequences, he becomes frightened, for his conscience tells him he deserves them.


Extreme selfishness, such as Dorian’s, can allow a person to distance himself from a sin, for he does not contemplate its effect on others. This creates the impression that one has no responsibility for what happens to other people – a soothing thought to a guilty mind. However, no matter how far one hurls a sin away from himself, it is always painfully visible to the conscience. When James Vane, a symbolic manifestation of Dorian’s conscience comes to avenge his sister’s death, Dorian finally brushes shoulders with the consequences of his first sin. Although he cleverly escapes, he is continually plagued by fear until, through a stroke of luck, James Vane is killed. Overjoyed, Dorian feels he has somehow escaped the jaws of fate. That is, until he is confronted with the terrible reality of his soul, and the idea that he will never be anything but the monstrous creature he has become. This is especially cruel. Being tortured by one’s conscience is awful enough, but most individuals know they can silence it simply by showing genuine remorse. However, Lord Henry convinces Dorian that his desire for a clean slate is nothing by an unconscious continuation of his selfish desire for new sensations. This would mean that there is no hope for Dorian’s soul; the only future is one of internal conflict and despair momentarily masked by empty pleasure.



Due to Lord Henry’s comments, Dorian comes to believe that he can not escape the degradation of his soul. One with a normal upbringing knows that every action has consequences, some more severe than others. Most people have faced repercussions their whole life and know how to cope with them; they know life goes on beyond the initial shame and pain. Such person knows they can change through hard work and time. However, having never faced consequences, Dorian habitually looks for the easy path to salvation. Once again, he attempts to escape his nagging conscience, only to discover that one can not do such a thing without working through consequences.  He does not know that it is possible to completely change one’s soul, for he never has learned to try.


A troubled conscience can be a merciless traitor within oneself. For Dorian, his inability to ignore his conscience is his downfall. As acid slowly eats through flesh, a guilty conscience will continue to slowly destroy a person, despite attempts to ignore it. This constant reminder of mistakes weakens one’s resolve to maintain a sinful course. In the end, the conscience is part of a person and can not be completely destroyed without destroying the person as a whole. This is why, when Dorian does eventually face consequences for his sins, they prove fatal. Therefore, it is never possible to escape sin’s eventualities, though these consequences are far less drastic to those who are able to confront them.


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7 thoughts on “Wrestling with a Conscience

  1. Lauyrn,

    I would first like to take a moment to comment on the remarkable balance you often demonstrate in your writing. For example, this piece was analytical—it was formal—but you also seemed to approach your writing with a sort of casual relatability. What I mean is, that while it has the similar format of a critical essay, it also reads as if it were a fable; something that exists in order to each us a specific moral. Does that makes sense? (I hope so, lol)
    That being said, as I have mentioned numerous times to you before, your writing never fails to inspire me—You are absolutely brilliant!

    The ideas in this blog itself are also very well developed with a consistent and informative connection back to the text. I like how you seemed to convey sin as an addictive force that can be used as a form of escapism, but also something that can easily ensnare an individual as well. Dorian, for instance, indulges in his pleasures—including the pleasures that are, by “arbitrary law,” considered to be amoral and sinful—in order to escape the monotony of a life that lacks beauty. That being said, Dorian’s sins were also capable of ensnaring him—he was demoralized, his soul fatally corrupted. This is what, no doubt, made any hopes for redemption impossible on Dorian’s part. As they say—some people are “too far gone to save”. I’m afraid Dorian is (was) one of those people.

    I also want to talk about something that particularly struck me about this post—something I’d not considered about the novel before—how James Vane is a “symbolic manifestation of Dorian’s conscience.” This is something that should be relatively simple, though I feel like many of us have denied the true significance of Vane’s character. Or who knows? Maybe I’m just a dummy, haha. But you really did bring forward a compelling point here. Interestingly enough, the death of Sybil does not seem to haunt Dorian until he encounters James for the first time. This, of course, occurred several years after Sybil’s death. This perhaps then proves that we can never truly purify ourselves of our sins. Even if Dorian had chosen to redeem himself as soon as he became aware of Sybil’s suicide, Vane still would have tried to kill him; it would have been inevitable. Like you said yourself, “it is never possible to escape sin’s eventualities.” This was another great breadcrumb! Thank you!

    The only thing I have to say in terms of improvements relates to the line, “A guilty conscience will continue to slowly destroy a person, as acid eats through flesh, even after attempts to ignore it.” I was a little bit confused as to what you meant when you said “as acid eats through flesh.” For me, it felt a little out of place, and it seemed a little vague. Maybe try to word it differently while explaining how a guilty conscience is capable of destroying a person. Or maybe just elaborate on the statment itself. That said though, there were no cliches in this piece! I know we talked about that last time. This piece, on the contrary, was incredibly original.

    Lovely job!

    —Jadey Bear

    1. Dear Jade,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog! I’m glad you feel I have achieved that tonal balance in this piece. It is one of my priorities to keep an informal voice whenever I can as this is the style of writing I enjoy reading most. Also, I’m honoured that you found a breadcrumb in my writing. Yay!

      I can see what you mean about the acid line. I’ll see if I can fix the wording or expand it.

      Thanks again!


  2. Dearest Lauryn,

    I would like to start this off by saying that your writing skills never cease to amaze me; you undeniably have complete command over the AP way of thinking. You are a true source of inspiration for all of us, and I am so thankful to have you as a member of my family group!

    As you may already know, I love analytical pieces – I like the way the little puzzle pieces fit together to form one cohesive picture, and I adore the way layers of logic are built with each paragraph in order to illustrate a point. Your blog is the embodiment of this layered, connected, logical approach; it is crafted so well that all the points seem to seamlessly fit together, and I can not help but wholeheartedly agree with the conclusion you have come to because of how persuasive your argument is. I also really like the fact that, despite this being a formal piece, you did not loose your own style in the analysis; I sometimes find my work becomes extremely ‘dry’ when it comes to formal works, but there is something distinctly ‘you’ about your blog – how do you do it so naturally?

    In terms of improvement, my suggestion is similar to Jade’s – the line about how acid eats through flesh ( while I do understand it and think that that is a reasonable comparison) does feel a little odd because it appears at the very end. Perhaps consider weaving in more imagery of the acid from earlier on in the blog so that final line has a stronger effect – maybe by creating parallels between the effect of the acid over time and the effect of conscious on Dorian over time?

    I would like to conclude this by saying, once again, how much I admire you as a writer and thinker! Thank you so much for joining our class this year and blessing us with your presence!

    Yours truly,

    1. Dear Tarannum,

      Thanks for your comment! The words about my use of logic really mean a lot coming from you – your use of logic in your writing and speech is evident and masterful! I am also glad you could see my style coming through. As I said to Jade, I really place value on evident personal style in writing. Honestly, I’m not sure how I achieve the style you see, perhaps because this is just how I write. Similarly, I definitely see your style and voice shine through in your writing, even if you can’t quite see it, perhaps because that is just how you write!

      Also, that’s a great idea for making that line more fitting. Perhaps by weaving it in earlier, as you suggest, it will seem less out-of-place.



  3. Dear Lauryn,

    My sincerest apologies for the late reply, I had read your blog but completely forgot to comment as I was furiously writing in my journal with the numerous amount of ideas your blog had given me. Seriously, I cannot be thankful enough to have you in my family group. I find that I see so many different perspectives with our family group, and only have appreciation and gratitude towards everyone in it.

    Now, about your blog. I love how you started it off with a question. It instantly got me thinking towards what you might be trying to say as well as my own argument on the case. Along with your question to provoke thought, I see many metaphorical phrases that inspired me to think further. When you mentioned that Dorian “was simply prolonging the inevitable for, in the end, one can not escape a working conscience,” I paused my reading and began to wonder and write in my journal about a man’s working conscience. In doing so, I found multiple parallels between Dorian Gray and Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird, which I never would have found if not for your decisive wording. Another thing which I found interesting in your blog is when you gave different adjectives to the word “conscience.” And how it transitions from adjective to adjective. You started out by calling it a “guilty conscience” which then transitioned into a “working conscience,” which then became a “nagging conscience,” which become a “troubled conscience,” and after it finally circled back into a “guilty conscience.” I found that very interesting.

    In terms of improvement, I would just mention to be careful that your word choice does not confuse the reader. I enjoy that you add layers to the meaning with word choice, but I feel too many layers would’ve caused me to become lazy and not want to decipher it further.

    Once again, I must thank you for writing this, and I look forward to our time spent in our family group as well as to reading more of your work.


    1. Dear Muhammad,

      Don’t worry about the late comment. It was worth the wait! Thanks for your kind words; I’m so happy that my blog post got you inspired to journal. And I never would have connected Scout and Dorian without you mentioning it, but it makes so much sense! Look at the synergy that just happened there.

      I’ll definitely take into consideration for future writing your comment about my word choice. When reading your list of descriptors I used for a conscience, I felt annoyed with my repetition. I really have to change my phrasing at the very least.

      Thanks again for your suggestions!


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