Oscar Wilde’s ‘the Importance of Being Earnest on Society’

British citizens have encountered many problems relating to marriage, love and class for a long time. It is not easy for people to love or marry partners from classes that are either above or lower than their own. In addition to this prejudice, many people have never held marriage with the seriousness it deserves. They, for example, choose partners based on other issues and not love. Others opt for divorce whenever a small disagreement occurs. At the time of Oscar Wilde, for example, it was also common for parents to choose partners for their children instead of giving them the freedom to follow their hears. This paper looks at how Oscar Wilde satirizes attitudes of British citizens of the time towards love, marriage and social differences. It also analyzes the effect of class on marriage as depicted in the Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest.

The current paper analyzes these attitudes based on the occurrences in the text and what other literary critics wrote about it. The discussion involves specific examples and quotations from the book. These citations are important in refuting criticism from some scholars who argue that The Importance of Being Earnest is just a farce that has no implications in society.

From the beginning, Wilde portrays women as people who love men for trivial reasons. They do not get attracted to men because of their personalities, but because of some minor traits (Paulun 2). Men, therefore, take advantage of this weakness to play tricks on women. In this drama, when Jack and Algernon realize that both Cecily and Gwendolen are in love with Ernest, the name Jack uses while in London, they decide to use this name, though at different times, to make these women fall in live with them.

The two men go to the extent of looking for Dr. Chasuble to christen them by the name Ernest. They both know that the name would make the women love them.

The influence of class on love and marriage comes into effect when Lady Bracknell shows her disapproval of the affair between Jack and Gwendolen. She objects to this relationship when she realizes that Jack does not have parents:

Lady Bracknell: Me sir! What has it to do with me? You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter-a girl brought up with the utmost care to marry into a cloak-room, and for alliance with a parcel? Good morning, Mr. Worthing! (Wilde 282).

Fiona Gregory argues that Wilde wanted to address the social stratification that existed in England during the 19th century (6). According to her, the aristocrats did not want to mingle with other people. This abomination is what Lady Bracknell wants her daughter to avoid. She only allows the relationship to continue after discovering that Jack is her own sister’s son. Her statements affirm the degree of importance aristocrats paid to individuals who belonged to the low and middle castes.

Wilde also satirizes the believe of the characters of the play that they were earnest people. He effectively demonstrates that people who claim to be earnest are, indeed, not earnest. He uses the words Ernest and earnest to mean both a name of a person and the behavior. The writer utilizes the two words to satirize the British society for the lack of seriousness when handling matters that relate to love and marriage. According to Stefanie Grill, Wilde makes his characters go against the norms that existed during the 19th century by making them lie to the people they love and still get rewards for their lies (5). Jack and Algernon lie to their girlfriends, yet they do not stop loving them. It is ironical that their lies turn out to be true at the end of the play.

Wilde also criticizes the tendency of taking marriage lightly among Britons. His characters do not get to know their partners well before accepting to marry them. Some of them end their marriages after minor disagreements. Lane, for example, casually talks about how his marriage died as if ending a marriage is something ordinary: “…I have only married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person.” (Wilde 252). Algernon is not happy with these words. He considers this behavior as a bad example to the rest of the society: “Lane’s views on marriage are very lax. Really, if the lower orders don’t set a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.” (Wilde 253).

From the discussion, it is clear that this play addresses issues that are very pertinent to both the current and old British societies. Wilde appropriately chose his characters and style, and his choice helped him address hypocrisy in courtship and marriage. He intended to reprimand people who lack seriousness in dealing with their fiancés and wives.

Works Cited

Gregory, Fiona. Rev. of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Insight, 2009. Web.

Grill, Stefanie. “Comic Effects in the Importance of Being Earnest.” Rev. of the Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. 2001. Web.

Paulun, Mareike. “On Oscar Wilde´ s” The Importance of Being Earnest”.” (2011).

Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest and Other plays 247-307. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Web.

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