In the Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde takes place in the late 1800s in London, an estate in Hertfordshire. Characters, Jack/Ernest, Algernon/Ernest, Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen and Cecily say and do opposite of what they mean, contradicting the Upper-Class Victorian Era. One can argue that the views and behaviors demonstrated from these characters are more so hypocritical than authentic that the Victorian Era is supposed to up hold. In this essay I will use quotes that Wilde uses throughout the play to validate the hypocrisy that is depicted by the characters in The Importance of Being Earnest and how critique is about the Victoria Era is established.
The use of expressions and contradicting situations are represented by the characters throughout the play. Algernon, a cynical in debt, upper-class man, speaks of his lower-class servant individual and how he should set a better example for the upper class, even though Algernon himself is not nor reinforces the Victorian high standards.
“Really, if the lower orders don’t set us 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 43-45). This quotes states that the upper class are not as prestige as they seem but are still better people in general because of their status in society. Algernon also shows hypocrisy when he comments on Jack coming up to the city as business when he is coming to propose to Gweldolen. “I thought you had come up for pleasure?… I call that business” (Wilde 71).
By remarking that proposing is a business plan shows that marriage in the Victorian time is more so money and status than love. Algernon also scoffs at the idea of marriage and the uncertainty of romance by saying, “If I ever get married, I’ll certainly try to forget the fact” (Wilde 72), and yet he asks Cecily to marry him, “I love you, Cecily. You will marry me, won’t you?” (Wilde 112).
By contradicting his beliefs, it displays that even though Algernon may feel a certain way about marriage, he still projects the patriarchy social values men convey in the Victoria Era. One of the readings that show Algernon’s hypocrisy is when he refers to Jack as an ‘advanced Bunburyists’ for creating Ernest for the town and Jack for the country, while he, himself has created ‘Bunbury.’ “I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose” (Wilde 77). This shows that he does not realize his own hypocrisy as he uses Bunbury to escape responsibilities and social obligations and yet he continues to live out another double life when he goes into Hertfordshire as Jacks ‘younger brother Ernest.’ Algernon’s hypocrisy allows readers to recognize fictious views the Victorian Era holds rather than at a prestige level.
Lady Bracknell is another character that Oscar Wilde demonstrates hypocrisy through. She is a realistic doppelgänger of Victorian women who convey wealth and power, although she herself was women who “had no fortune of any kind” (Wilde 134) until she married aristocracy, Lord Bracknell. This shows hypocrisy because she says she doesn’t believe in marrying for money but, yet she become a social climber to have the power she currently holds. She also doesn’t consent Gwendolen to marry Jack/ Earnest because he doesn’t uphold the wealthy social standards of the Victorian society. She makes judgement on his satisfactory investments, the homes he owns and most important how her daughter cannot marry a man who was ‘found,’ “… a girl brought up with the utmost care- marry into a cloak room, and form an alliance with a parcel?” (Wilde 90). This is also hypocritical of Lady Bracknell because she is going against her social Victorian values of being a woman of earnest. Lady Bracknell hypocrisy shines through as well when she quickly bends her rule of “I do not approve of mercenary marriages” (Wilde 134) when she finds out that Cecily has a fortune of “hundred and thirty thousand pounds in funds” (Wilde 133) and says, “I suppose I must give my consent” (Wilde 135). This goes to show how quickly people of the era can become hypocrites when the nature of wealth and power are the hand of improving their family monetary status.
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