Importance of Being Earnest Analysis

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The play The Importance of Being Earnest brilliantly exemplifies the concept of satire. Through the clever deployment of satirical devices like irony, sarcasm, and farce, the author ridicules the Victorian society. Wilde frequently targets the societal norms that were disregarded, while also critiquing the upper class for their self-perception as the patriarchs of British society.

In the play, Wilde mocks and condemns the Victorian society for its unjust and oppressive values, as he sought to distance himself from these repressive ideals. Each character in the play embodies a shallow behavior that reflects various conventional Victorian themes like marriage, morality, and appearance. It is important to note that Oscar Wilde was a contemporary of the Victorian era, a time characterized by strict principles and a conservative political environment.

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The play undermines political conservatism and challenges the ideals traditionally associated with it. This is in direct contrast to the rebellious and critical nature of Oscar Wilde. The play exposes the hypocrisy of Victorian values, portraying the upper classes as hypocritical despite appearing to uphold exemplary behavior and proper manners. It suggests that the idea of marriage being deeply fulfilling and the moral attitude of being earnest leading to happiness are misleading concepts.

In the past, marriage was viewed as a business transaction and people lived in a dishonest way with a double standard of morality. Oscar Wilde chose to depict Jack Worthing, a character from the upper class, to represent this aspect of society. By giving him the name Worthing, which is related to worthiness, Wilde humorously explores the Victorian values of courtship and marriage. Through this character, Wilde questions the proper behavior expected in Victorian society.

Oscar Wilde’s main intention in the play is to satirize the aristocracy by using irony, humor, and sarcasm through the characters. Jack’s double personality and double identity allows him to live a life of lies that are actually true, contradicting the notion of “worthiness.” In one instance, Jack realizes that he has been speaking nothing but the truth his entire life, which he refers to as a terrible thing. He asks Gwendolen for forgiveness. This creates a comedic and satirical atmosphere as Wilde constructs the play.

An example of irony is presented in the statement “it is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal” by Algernon in act 1. Despite the play seemingly ending happily and romantically with Algernon and Cecily, ironically, Algernon views marriage as a business proposal rather than something pleasurable. The characters in the play exemplify Victorian values, with Jack Worthing embodying conventional Victorian values and striving to portray qualities such as duty, honor, and respectability.

Indeed, Wilde used Jack’s character to satirize the prevalent acceptance of hypocrisy in Victorian morality. In act 2, Jack remarks, “I could deny it if I liked. I could deny anything if I liked,” demonstrating his inclination to deceive and maintain his respectable persona through his alter ego, Ernest. Gwendolen also embodies the attributes of a conventional Victorian woman, embracing artificiality and pretentiousness. As a member of the upper class, she showcases her sophistication and intellect through her fashion choices.

Gwendolen is enamored with Jack, whom she believes to be named Ernest, and she is constantly captivated by his name. This serves as a figurative representation of the fixation that the Victorian upper middle class had on superficial appearances and reputations. The idea of “appearance” is exemplified by the shallow belief that one’s name alone is sufficient for identifying someone, while the notion of “honor” is illustrated through Gwendolen’s actions of being attracted to someone solely based on their name. In a similar vein, Wilde utilizes Algernon as a means to critique the privileged members of his society and to condemn the outdated values prevalent during the Victorian era.

In order to accomplish this, Algernon, a character who exemplifies hypocrisy, describes several hypocritical attitudes. For instance, he states that “the lower orders seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.” This statement highlights the irony in Algernon’s character, as he himself belongs to the upper classes who were actually identified as experiencing moral degradation. In Victorian society, restrictions were portrayed as a moral code. By mocking the Victorian notion of morality as an inflexible set of rules dictating people’s actions, Wilde satirizes the entire concept.

The physical characteristics and behavior of Jack and Algernon lead us to consider Victorian values because these characters embody the typical Victorian snobbery. They are determined to uphold their social status by imitating the tastes, fashion, and lifestyle of the upper class. On the other hand, Wilde uses the story to satirize the manners and actions of these characters, which were closely tied to important Victorian themes. Despite the play’s happy ending, there is a connection between Jack Worthing’s dual identity and the concept of double morality prevalent during that time.

The concept of the double life is exemplified through the practice of “Bunburying”. Additionally, money plays a crucial role in the regulations of marriage. Interestingly, characters who possess higher levels of education tend to display more pretentiousness and hypocrisy. For instance, both Cecily, a student of Miss Prism, and Algernon, who considers himself excessively educated, engage in contradictory behavior by saying one thing but acting in the opposite manner. While Cecily resides in a protected rural environment and appears to be intelligent, her strong desires and aspirations lead her to behave differently.

The play highlights the gender roles prevalent in Victorian society, where men hold more power and influence compared to women. Men are responsible for making political decisions for their families, while women are confined to domestic duties. Intelligence and decision-making abilities are highly valued in men, whereas physical attractiveness and purity are primary traits appreciated in women. However, Wilde challenges these gender norms by portraying authoritative women like Lady Bracknell and exposing the poor decision-making skills of men like Jack and Algernon. “Please excuse me, but you are not currently engaged to anyone. Once you do become engaged, either I or your father (if he is able) will inform you of the fact,” suggests Lady Bracknell indicating that women lack autonomy in choosing their own husbands.

Lastly, it is important to recognize the significance of being earnest as a theme of respect and reputation. This is particularly evident in the way upper classes excessively prioritize appearing respectable. Consequently, we can observe a connection with Victorian values held by the upper class, who have slightly varying expectations for men and women. Men are expected to be upstanding, wealthy, and come from a good family. Similarly, women are expected to possess these qualities along with being chaste. Failure to adhere to these standards, such as being born into poverty or being discovered in a handbag like Jack’s case, can hinder the ability to form a desirable union.

Causing a disruption to their prestigious lifestyle. The only aspect the upper class took seriously was maintaining their social status and outward appearance, but they were unaware of their true identity. In conclusion, Wilde portrays the high class in a particular manner by satirizing Victorian Society and reversing the significance of serious and trivial matters. This comedic approach highlights the absurdity of Victorian morals and values, allowing Wilde to express his opinion.

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