Analysis "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde

Categories: Oscar Wilde

The Importance of Being Earnest is a play written by Oscar Wilde. The story is about Jack, a man who lives a double life in pursuit of pleasure that he lacks in his own life. Jack is a guardian to Cecily Cardew, an eighteen-year-old granddaughter of the late Thomas Cardew, the man who had found him and adopted him as a baby. Jack has several responsibilities in the community; as a major landowner and justice of the peace, with tenants, farmers, a couple of servants, and several employees who are dependent on him.

Jack has always pretended to have an irresponsible brother called Earnest, who lives a scandalous life seeking pleasures and always gets in trouble that mandates Jack to go and assist him. However, Earnest is just an alibi that Jack uses to enable him to disappear for a couple of days and engage is pleasures of life as he so desires. While in London, Jack goes by the name Earnest.

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Jack is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax, a cousin to his best friend, Algernon Moncrieff, Algernon, known Jack as Earnest, and is suspicious that Jack is leading a double life. Algernon himself had been pretending to have a friend called Bunbury, which offers him a means to get away from his busy life and escape to the country. Algernon falls in love with Earnest’s ward, Cecily, and pretends that he is Earnest, for him to gain his approval. In the long-last, the identities of Jack and Algernon come to light, and the two men decided to have their names converted to Earnest in a quest to acquire approval of their love interests.

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The play, The Importance of Being Earnest, is an example of satirical comedy where Oscar Wilde utilized satire for ridiculing various aspects in the society such as marriage and love. As a satirical comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest makes ridicule of various deviations from the social norms and on those who appear to violate the standards of the norm. In the play, The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde uses satire to bring out the issue of courtship or gendered power.

In the play, The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde uses satire to speak about the various social institutions, among them, the marriage. He provides a satirical view on marriage by using the girls, Gwendolen and Cecily, who are in courtship with Jack and Algernon, respectively. However, to these girls, the only prerequisite that matters for them to engage in marriage is the name Earnest. To these ladies, nothing else matters, other than having the man with the name Earnest. Gwendolen indicated that "I am told; my ideal has always been to love someone of the name Earnest. There is something that name that inspires absolute confidence" (Wilde, 263. On her part, Cecily stated that "You must not laugh at me darling, but it had always been a girlish dream of mine to love someone whose name was Earnest" (Wilde 288). It is due to this reason that Jack and Algernon change their name to Earnest. In the process of seeking to establish the suitability of Jack to marry Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell, focuses on asking about his income, politics, and his land ownership status. She does not give attention as to whether Jack cared genuinely cared for her. In this sense, Wilde has satirized marriage by showing how the people in courtship, or seeking to approve the courtship, considers it as a mere social adventure as opposed to loving union.

Wilde uses satire to depict the nature of the society that was mainly based on patriarchy system where men dominated by holding positions of power. The values of Victorian society are evident in Lady Bracknell's reaction to Gwendolen's engagement. She is horrified and holds the position that it is not up to Gwendolen to make plans for her marriage and certainly not with a man of a lower class ranking. Lady Bracknell states that "Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you become engaged to someone, I or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the act. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant, or unpleasant, as the case may be, it is hardly a matter she could be allowed to arrange for herself." (Wilder 391-395). Lady Bracknell's statement is satirical in the manner in which it tears apart, the move by Gwendolen to make her own arrangement on her marriage partner. It depicted that is this community, the parents, especially the father, held the absolute power on how the daughter was to marry. It is clear that it was the decision of a father that mattered when it came to whom a lady would be married to. In this case, Lady Bracknell states that she can only take up the position of having the power to determine who her daughter was to marry if her husband’s health deteriorates. Wilde has made it clear the males held the authority and power on deciding the fate of their daughters in marriage and were expected to accept the decision without objection, considering whether it was pleasant or unpleasant choice.

It can be observed that men in the society presented by Wilde make most decisions for the women. Cecily is depicted as requiring approval from Jack is her guardian before doing crucial things in life. An example of such a scenario comes to be when Jack prevents the marriage between her and Algernon, just because he holds the position of power, where his consent would be required. Jack stated that "I beg your pardon for interrupting you, lady Bracknell, but this engagement is quite out of the question. I am Miss Cardew's guardian, and she cannot marry without my consent until she comes of age. That consent I absolutely decline to give (Wilde 181). This clearly points that Jack, by the virtual of being a male and the guardian to Cecily, has absolute powers to revoke any of her decisions. Another scenario where the gendered power issue is satirically presented is on the issue of Cecily's education, where Jacks also portrays his control. Despite Cecily not being interest4ed in the learning German, Jack pressured her to keep learning it and improve on the language (Wilde 6). It can, therefore, be identified that in the play The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde uses satire to show how gendered power gave men the authority over women even in making a decision that directly impacted the lives of the women.

In the play, The Importance of Being Earnest uses satire to describe the issue of gender roles in society based on the positioning of power. The play is set Victorian world, which is characterized by men having more power and influence compared to women. It is men who mostly make political decisions, for their families, while women are engaged in household chores. In the normal society set up, men were accorded value for their intellect and judgment, while women were considered attractive men based on their chastity and beauty. However, in the play, The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde uses satire to highlight a shift in gendered power. In the play, Lady Bracknell is used to represent the shifting gendered power from men with women taking up positions of power. In her talk with Gwendolyn, Lady Bracknell, express her conviction that the house was the proper place for man. The play highlights issues of gendered role at a point where women were replacing men in profession capacity, and with men replacing women in their traditional capacity.

Wilde highlights an emerging trend of a shift in the gendered power from the men to the women. This is best presented through Lady Bracknell. When Lady Bracknell told Gwendolon that decision on her marriage would be communicated by "I or your father, should his health permit him" we get the impression that it is due to poor health that Lord Bracknell was not actively involved in the matters of his family, and does not make himself public. This provides an opportunity for Lady Bracknell to rise up to the occasion and take up the role of being the man. It is evident that there is an emergence of a role swap. Wilde takes up this trend that creates satire out of it where he makes those traditional gender values and swaps the gender power. While playing the capacity of the male, Lady Bracknell comments that education has no effect. In this, she highlights that the women in Victorian society were limited access to education compared to women, and even the women who had access to education had not done much in enabling them to have the power of making decisions.

Lady Bracknell is presented as the most masculine female character in women. This is satirical with regards to she had taken up roles traditional set out for males. It is clear that Lady Bracknell holds power to stop Jack from marrying Gwendolen, and is a position to boss the characters in the play. The character of masculinity accorded to Lady Bracknell seems to be absurd. The shift in gender power is more evident based on how she lacks some feminine characters, such as sympathy. An example of this is when she shows no sympathy on Bunbury and comments that, "Should just make his mind, whether he is going to live or die." She is also not concerned about being sympathetic to Jack after learning that he had lost both parents. Wilde uses satire to raise crucial questions on the gender roles by having Lady Bracknell assume the position of power that would have been traditionally held by males.

In conclusion, it can be observed that Wilde has utilized satire in the play, The Importance of Being Earnest to depict courtship and gendered roles. Wilde provides a satirical view on marriage by using the girls, Gwendolen and Cecily, who are in courtship with Jack and Algernon, respectively. Gwendolen and Cecily are only focused on courting a man with a name, Earnest. In the play, The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde uses satire to highlight a shift in gendered power. In the play, Lady Bracknell is used to represent the shifting gendered power from men with women taking up positions of power.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Analysis "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde. (2020, Sep 10). Retrieved from

Analysis "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde essay
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