THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, A TRIVIAL COMEDY FOR SERIOUS PEOPLE by the Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde, is a comedy about the customs and seriousness of society around Victorian values of that time. THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is an excellent example of what a satire is, by the use of satirical devices such as irony, sarcasm and farce to show the society in a ridiculous way. In the play, Wilde often satirizes the Victorian society and all the rules that weren’t followed, criticizing the thinking of the upper classes of seeing themselves as the father in all the United Kingdom family society.
Wilde decided to judge Victorian society because their values represented injustice, oppression and Oscar Wilde wanted to be unattached or free of these repressive values. He satirizes and criticizes the Victorian society in the play, carrying out a superficial conduct, which each separate character demonstrates in several Victorian conventional topics, such as marriage morality and appearance. Oscar Wilde lived in the Victorian era, which was governed by principles of a discrete and an orderly life with a great political conservatism.
This political conservatism included a series of ideals which were quite the contrary ideas of a revolutionary, rebellious and critical person as Oscar Wilde was. In the play all the Victorian values are show against, demonstrating upper classes as models of exemplary attitude and correct manner, when they really acted in a wrong way. For example the play makes us think that marriage is deeply satisfying and that being earnest is a moral attitude which will conduce to happiness.
When marriage actually was a business deal and being earnest wasn’t a way of conducing to happiness, was a manner of living in falsity with a double moral. In this way, Oscar Wilde decided to show Jack Worthing as the principal character of the upper class. In this character Wilde had the opportunity to explore the Victorian values of courtship and marriage, through the humor of his name Worthing. This is related to worthiness, allowing Wilde to consider in a humorous way the correct manner of Victorian society.
Because “worthiness” wasn’t really the value that Jack had in the play, acting with a double personality, living with a double identity which permits him to live in a liar that was actually true all time. “Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me? “ As we can see Oscar Wilde’s principal intention is to satirize the aristocracy through the use of irony, humor and sarcasm from each of the characters, forming and constructing a comedy.
An example of irony “it is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal”. (Algernon, act 1). When the play finishes, we think that he ends in a happy and romantic way with Cecily. Ironically Algernon in all the play considers marriage as a business proposal, instead of pleasure. The Victorian values in the entire story are shown in the characters in the play; Jack Worthing represents conventional Victorian values. He wants others to think that he promotes qualities like duty, honor, and respectability.
Indeed, what Wilde was actually satirizing through Jack was the general tolerance for hypocrisy in conventional Victorian morality. “I could deny it if I liked. I could deny anything if I liked” (Jack Worthing, act 2). Showing that he lies, having a double life using his ego (Ernest) to keep his honorable image intact. Another example is Gwendolen representing the qualities of conventional Victorian woman. She has ideas and ideals of being artificial and pretentious. Also as a member of high society, Gwendolen exhibits fashion, being an intellectual and sophisticated.
Gwendolen is in love with Jack, who she knows as Ernest, and she is attracted all time by his name. This example serves as a metaphor for the preoccupation of the Victorian middle of the upper classes with only the appearance and honor. “Appearance” showed as a superficial ideal of only identifying someone by the name, and the “honor” of being with somebody only by its name, In Gwendolen’s actions. Likewise Wilde uses Algernon as a way of criticizing the elite of his society and to condemn the old Victorian values.
In order to do so, he has Algernon, who describes many hypocritical attitudes, such as. “The lower orders seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility”. Such statement demonstrated the extremely ironic literary figure, as it was the upper classes to which Algernon belongs, that were identifies as suffering moral degradation. Because restrictions in Victorian society were represent as a moral code. Wilde makes fun of the whole Victorian idea of morality as a rigid way of rules, about what people should and shouldn’t do.
Jack and Algernon’s physical characteristics and behavior make us reflect about Victorian values, because the characters are typical Victorian snobs; willing to maintain their class position, imitating tastes, fashion and lifestyle. On other hand, as we can see in the story Wilde makes fun of all the manners and actions of the characters, which had a relation with Victorian principal topics. Although the play ends in a happy way, there is a linkage between the double identity of Jack Worthing, related with double morality.
The double life is presented in the act of “Bunburying”. Another factor is money which is the detonating factor in the rules of marrying. Ironically, the more educated the character is, the more pretentious and hypocritical he or she seems. Cecily who is Miss prism’s student and Algernon who describes himself as overeducated, say one thing and then do exactly the opposite. In the case of Cecily she is over protected in the country setting, and apparently she’s a smart girl, bur her passionate desires and goals made her act in a different way.
In play the gender role is evidenced because in Victorian society men have greater influence than women. Men make the political decisions for their families, while women work around the house. Men are valued for their intellect and judgment, while women are attractive to men for their beauty and chastity. However, Wilde raises questions about gender roles in the play by putting women like Lady Bracknell in positions of power and by showing that men (Jack and Algernon) can be irresponsible and bad at decision-making. Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself . . . And now I have a few questions to put to you, Mr. Worthing”. (Lady Bracknell, act 2). There is evidence that Lady Bracknell’s suggest that women aren’t capable of choosing her husband’s.
And lastly, I would like to project the importance of being earnest as a theme of respect and reputation, in the way that upper classes care about being seen respectable in an excessive way. And we can see the correlation with the Victorian values on high classes in the way that Victorian upper- class holds slightly different expectations of men and women. Men need to be upstanding, rich and from good family. Women need to be upstanding, rich, from a good family, and chaste. Any deviation from rules (being born poor, or being found in a handbag, in Jacks case) may prevent making a good match.
Causing an interruption of their noble life. So the only earnestness attitude the high social class had, was to be serious and formal about maintaining the status and an extern appearance, but without knowing your truly identity. To conclude, Wilde shows the high class in a specific way by satirizing Victorian Society, inverting serious and trivial matters. Making or forming a comedy in the way that serious issues treated trivially create humor. Allowing Wilde to comment and show his opinion about the absurd nature of Victorian morals and values