Dorian succumbs to paranoia at Lady Narborough’s home, but his fear of being discovered prove unnecessary. His hostess tells him that “you are made to be good – you look so good.” The inability to accept the possibility that a young, innocent appearance hides anything other than an innocent, beautiful personality is a common one in Dorian’s social circle; this superficiality is what allows him to maintain a level of respect and admiration, despite the preponderance of nasty rumors, and even despite the guilt of a murder weighing on his conscience.
Wilde uses Dorian’s group of friends to parody the superficiality of London’s aristocracy. Lord Henry’s convictions that beauty is the most important thing in the world and that physical beauty is the greatest asset a person can have seem to be shockingly accurate, at least amongst people such as those whom Dorian and Henry associate with. This raises an important question: if Lord Henry’s morally shallow beliefs are justified, can we condemn his character for espousing them?
Dorian’s odd mannerisms while handling the ornate box of opium and his discreet flight to the opium den reveal an addiction that we have been thus far unaware of. Dorian has always escaped his guilt by immersing himself in pleasurable distractions, but his lapse into addiction signifies that he has sunk to yet a lower level of degradation. This addiction also reminds us of the nature of Dorian’s relationship to the portrait. Like an addict, Dorian cannot refrain from seeking out and indulging himself in new guilty pleasures. And, like an addict, Dorian cannot help but return to the attic and bask in the horror of his disfigured soul.
Adrian’s presence in the opium den bothers Dorian because he “wanted to be where no one knew who he was. He wanted to escape from himself.” His past, however, haunts him no matter where he turns. One might expect Dorian to take some solace from the fact that, unlike Alan Campbell, Adrian is willing to interact with Dorian, but other people mean so little to Dorian at this point that he can only view Adrian as a nuisance. Instead of taking pity on Adrian’s deplorable state, Dorian is repulsed.
The inescapability of the past is also exemplified by the reappearance of Sibyl’s vengeful brother. James Vane seeks revenge for the very first instance of Dorian’s corruption: the act of selfish vanity that caused the initial change in the painting. James’s determination to avenge his sister’s death represents the culmination of all of Dorian’s sins, returning to hunt him down. However, superficiality does not fail Dorian yet; in this first encounter with James, Dorian’s face literally saves his life.