Reversals of Traditional Gender Roles in The Importance of Being Earnest

The play The Importance of Being Earnest,’ which was written and set in 1895 (Late Victorian Era), is heavily influenced by the patriarchal society of the time; this society valued men more than women. A central theme in the play is focused around the social roles of men and women and how they interact with each other during this time. Gwendolen is seen to be a typical Victorian woman on the surface, although she does not conform to typical Victorian standards and, necessarily, meet the requirements for her to be seen as lady’ based on her actions and commentary throughout the play.

Overall, I largely agree with this statement because Lady Bracknell is put in a position of power as she gets the final decision on who her daughter gets to marry also, secondary characters, like Gwendolen, do not conform because she is not submissive as she does not listen to Lady Bracknell when she is given orders. However [Think of an opposing view ” do the women conform to their roles?]Wilde presents the women in a way that contrasts how powerless they are in society as he creates headstrong female characters who have the ability to influence the men’s choices as well as being able to make their own.

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An example of this is that the women are able to choose their partners, women were rarely given this choice, instead their fathers, brothers or even uncles would be given the control over who the women had interactions with, especially if they were of romantic interest and were considered as being suitable husbands.

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For example, Gwendolen breaks traditional Victorian gender roles by dismissing her mother’s instructions when she is asked to wait in the carriage after accepting Earnest’s’ (Jacks) proposal without permission, which makes her mother state pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I or your fatherwill inform you of the fact later when she has to obtain permission, she does not go to her father Lord Bracknell’, instead she asks her aunt. Wilde places Lady Bracknell in a position of power which is quite intimidating; in the first act, Algernon’s behaviour seems rather erratic, from inspecting sandwiches to informing Jack they are specifically for his aunt, from this one can interpret that he is intimidated by Bracknell, and the audience is aware that her social standing is quite respectable as her title, Lady, suggests. However, as the play moves forward we are introduced to the idea of a female character ultimately having much more power and influence than any of the other characters we’re introduced to. It’s unusual for a woman during the Victorian times to be so dominating and in control yet Gwendolen and Cecily also appear to have a great deal of power over their male partners. For instance, Jack and Algernon desperately attempt to christen themselves Ernest purely because Gwendolen and Cecily threaten to withhold their affections from them as they are not Ernest by doing this they essentially force Jack and Algernon into changing their names in order to be with them.

Although they have some power, it is clear that Wilde created Bracknell’s character to play out stereotypical male roles, Algernon/Banbury cannot be described as masculine, instead during this time he would have been regarded as being dandy, meaning a man who pays great attention to fashion and often dresses with a flamboyant style , This is not something that Wilde chooses to disguise, instead Algernon embraces what could be described as his feminine’ side and continues to brag to Cecily “I never have any appetite unless I have a buttonhole first “. It is clear that Wilde’s aim is to present Lady Bracknell as most masculine in the play especially in comparison to her nephew. Another way Lady Bracknell exercises her power is when she pretends’ to know of politics in order to decide whether Ernest’ can be considered a worthy candidate in regards to Gwendolen’s engagement oh they count as Tories. They dine with us. This shows off her masculinity as women at the time did not have the right to vote and wouldn’t have held much of an opinion about political views or the political state of the country, instead this would have fell to her husband, however, Lord Bracknell is completely absent from the play but is referenced often and is presented as being very submissive to his wife as she informs Algernon that Lord Bracknell Will have to dine upstairs and that fortunately he is accustomed to that suggests to the audience that his presence is rather insignificant and he is only needed when it suits Lady Bracknell, this explains why he has no control of Gwendolen’s future husband and is ultimately absent from the play. Because of the clear difference between Lady and Lord Bracknell it emphasises the role of the men and women during the Victorian era, the traditional view was that men were dominant, assertive and independent, and women were quite submissive, passive and dependent, feminist critics would argue that this play isn’t about non-conforming to roles that aren’t equal but that instead it can be argued that it is a clear case of role reversal, rather than Lady and Lord Bracknell sharing the responsibilities between each other.

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Reversals of Traditional Gender Roles in The Importance of Being Earnest. (2019, Aug 20). Retrieved from

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