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Wilde’s play makes use of satire in ridiculing norms of culture including mindset and marriage love that were extremely rigid in the Victorian age period. It is satirical in ridiculing the institutions by portraying deviance in the society through making moral ideas, manners as well as standards ridiculous (Wilde, p.182). Through making trials of correcting character flaws, it is bringing about big criticism.
Title of the play
Wilde, the author of the play is very a good master in using English language art and turning it around towards fitting themes which are sarcastic. In this play, Wilde makes an accomplishment of this to a level that is very high. The play has the title “Earnest” which is a play on word and may have two different meanings. Firstly, it may have the obvious meaning of the actual name of a character. Secondly, the word may have the meaning of a seriousness sense and then Wilde shows that seriousness in real sense for characters in the play (Wilde, p.16). Algernon and Jack who are the major characters in this play made great efforts in becoming Earnest and Ernest. Their relationships are started in the foundation of lies in hoping to marry the love of their lives. The irony is portrayed when the two characters take the name “Earnest”. This name suggests sincerity and honesty, yet both characters make stories of escaping something. Jack makes a brother named Ernest that is used as a scapegoat in leaving his proper and prim, respectable life, while Algernon makes a friend named Bunbury in escaping the high-class parties of his aunt’s society (Sammells, p.1).
Love and trivial matters
The play has a focus on two major couples. These are Cecily and Algernon and Gwendolen and Jack. Both of these girls are yearning to get married to a man by the name Ernest. They are placing a very strong emphasis on their husband’s name. When Jack makes an attempt of telling Gwendolen his real name, she says, “No, the name Jack has very little music,” (Wilde, 537). Wilde makes use of farce deliberately in the play to make an exaggeration of mind frames of the high-class people in society. Here, it is clearly seen that Jack and Gwendolen are really in love. However, she puts more value on superficial, trivial as well as stupid matters that no one can control. In the same way, Cecily’s dream is also about getting a husband called Ernest. She tells Algernon, “that name contains something inspiring absolute confidence. She adds that she is filled with pity on a woman married to a man that is not named Ernest,” (Wilde, 556). Also, the author of this play satirizes the marriage institution since love is not the main base of it. It is based on the superficial criteria of more vain. Although there is a lot of exaggeration, in this case, satirizing the vanity of aristocrats, the author still puts across one thing that both Cecily and Gwendolen may have denied marrying husbands of their dream only if they were not bearing the name Earnest.
The base of marriage institutions
Lady Bracknell is seen to be behind the plot in the play. Bracknell is a representation of Victorian women of the upper-class in society (Sammells, p.1). She has a belief that power belongs to the people of high-class. Furthermore, she possesses very little opinions of those people without money or title. This means that the majority of the people do not deserve being in it unless one is born into it. She is portrayed as the society guardian because she dictates forcefully on who is supposed to marry who. The first scene shows Gwendolen not capable of defending herself from her zeal of marrying Jack after proposing to her. Bracknell here is viewed as a character that uses force and hates being opposed. Although Gwendolen felt like disagreeing with her, she lacks the power of doing that. Wilde makes use of Lady Bracknell in showing an aristocrat who is typical and adheres strongly to the rules of upper-class society. When she meets Jack to make a discussion about Gwendolen, she starts questioning him about his land, money, house as well as where he lives instead of asking him whether he loves the girl, Gwendolen. She points it very clear that it is very important for him having a place to live in town since his girlfriend cannot accept living in a rural home. In addition, Bracknell is seriously treating trivial matters even though she should be upholding society values. However, less attention is given to the values of morality in society. Instead, Bracknell is not pleased by the side where Jack’s house is located in town. She terms this as an unfashionable side. To her thinking, the interests of everyone should be the same as hers.
Ignorance and hypocrisy
Lady Bracknell’s ignorance is also portrayed at the time she wants to turn a blind eye towards Cecily. This is when she gets the news that Cecily is engaged to Algernon. Immediately, she puts a judgment on Cecily according to the fact that her guardian is Jack. However, Lady Bracknell’s views change instantly after Jack informs her that Cecily is having 130,000 pounds. More emphasis is put on the wealth possessed by a person rather than his or her sincerity, personality and compassion for others (Sammells, p.378). Marriage is seen as a factor of economy in which people engage in marriage for wealth and material things or for wealth conservation. This is well seen in Lady Bracknell representing the high-class society guardian. However, she is a hypocrite since she makes use of social morals in favor of herself. For instance, she denies letting Jack marry the poor Gwendolen yet on the other hand tries justifying marriage of the poor Algernon and the rich Cecily.
The play strongly puts an emphasis on those belonging to the high-class society as well as aristocrats’ vanity placing emphasis more on trivial issues that concern marital life. Jack and Algernon assume being identified with the name Ernest yet it is ironical that they are both commencing their marriage on the foundation of lies and deception. Bracknell is a representation of archetypal aristocrat forcing marriage concept based on status and wealth rather than love. Wilde uses satire to reveal trivial and foolish matters being looked upon by upper-class people in society.
- Sammells, Neil. Wilde style: the plays and prose of Oscar Wilde. Routledge, 2014.
- Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays: Lady Windermere’s Fan; Salome; A Woman of No Importance; An Ideal Husband; The Importance of Being Earnest. OUP Oxford, 2008.
- Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People by Oscar Wilde. Vol. 1.BoD-Books on Demand, 2017.
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