Satire in the Importance of Being Earnest

Making use of funny assists bring books, movies and plays to life. In some cases, it is even written around the idea of comedy itself. The play Importance of Being Earnest written by Oscar Wilde slams the element of the stylish life in the Victorian period by teasing them with a term called satire. In the play, Wilde artistically utilizes three various kinds of paradox. These being: verbal, significant and situational forms of paradox. Each type of irony is utilized to mock the behavior and status of the characters, depending on their character and position in the society.

Satire is defined to be the use of humor to ridicule faults and vices. The Importance of Being Earnest written by Oscar Wilde is a social satire, using irony and paradoxes to insinuate the problems and faults found in the Victorian society. The Importance of Being Earnest is set in the late Victorian Era during a social reform. The class system was defined by the animosity between classes, the upper class treating the lower class with disdain and disgust.

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The upper class was rigidly controlled by savoir faire, knowing what to eat, wear and how to behave. The Importance of Being Earnest satirizes the class system, etiquette and disposition that was expected from Victorians. Wilde uses irony, humor and characters not only to call attention to the absurdity of the Victorian behavior but also to highlight the ironic humor in the characters shortcomings that reflect the Victorians who were watching it.

Verbal paradox is displayed in which an individual says or writes something and implies another, or uses words to communicate a meaning that is the opposite of the literal meaning.

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The first for of paradox is revealed when Algernon accuses the protagonist, John/Jack Worthing, of being a “bunburyist”. A bunburyist is the innovation of a person in which a person pretends to be in specific situations. These accusations of John hold true considering that a fictional more youthful bro named Ernest. In this circumstance, the paradox is expressed when John satisfies Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen who seems to be in love with her at first sight.The Importance of Being Earnest seems to be a criticism of society. The play is a light-hearted comedy but also a social satire utilizing this chance to criticize social issues. The use of irony reveals an inconsistency between the characters words and the truth, suggesting that society is hypocritical. The Importance of Being Earnest reflects the audience it was written for. From the entrance of “Mr. Earnest Worthing,” there are constant criticisms between Jack and Algy. Jack criticizes Algy for speaking, “you talk exactly as if you were a dentist.” This criticism presents an irony; Jack believes it is “very vulgar,” for Algy to present to be someone he is not. This is ironic as Jack is not self critical enough to be aware that by being “Earnest in town and Jack in the country,” he himself is presenting a “false impression,” and behaving like a hypocrite. The dramatic irony of this is that the laughter incurred from this irony is ironic in itself.

At this part, John presents himself as his made up sibling Ernest, then displaying the attributes of being strong, brave and genuine to draw in Gwendolen. These actions John portrayed in this scene are that of being Earnest. This kind of Irony is simpler to understand when seeing the personalities of John and Ernest individually. John makes up this depend on order to keep Gwendolen brought in to him and win her love after she states, “I pity any lady who is married to a male called John, the only real safe name is Ernest”.

The audience can identify the faults in Jack however this laughter suggests that they cannot see the reflection of themselves in this play. This satirizes the Victorian society and their faults. Jack is a representation of society and he implies that society is hypocritical. Jack is presented to be a pretentious hypocrite, living by one set of rules for him but having another for Algy and Cecily, his ward. I see this use of irony and satire as a criticism of the Victorian society but more specifically the delusional self image held by the audience. Wilde uses this technique consistently through out the play to highlight the short comings of the Victorians and their etiquette. This consistent use of quick wit and clever humor presents a social satire delving into the vices of Victorian society.

The fact that John goes along with this lie is an indication of verbal irony, because in contradicting himself, he follows the definition of being earnest. Another type of irony used by Wilde that used in the play is dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is when the audience knows a particular fact that the other characters do not. This irony appears in the play when Ernest was talking to Algernon at the beginning of the play, Ernest told Algernon, who already had a clue that Jack was his real name, which is where the audience learns about he double life; Algernon always introduced Jack by his other name Ernest Worthing making everyone believe that Ernest was his actual name when his literal name is Jack.Wilde in his own life came from a home that prided itself on its class and stature. Wilde was received as a great success and married in 1884. However Wilde presented a “false impression,” of himself. In 1891 Wilde fell extravagantly in love with Lord Alfred Douglas, and four years later was imprisoned for acts of gross indecency. Prior to this imprisonment Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest and in this play highlighted the incongruence in the lives lead in the Victorian society, in order to meet the unwritten rules and expectations of the upper class. The characters behavior towards each other and their staff present a comical situation. Wilde uses this to mock the social standards and power structures within a Victorian household. The first scene set in Algernon’s flat between Lane and Algernon is highly satirical.

Another example of dramatic irony in the story is displayed through Algernon’s fake identity Bunbury. Algernon tells his family and friends that his good fake friend, Bunbury is very sick which is the main excuse Algernon uses to escape from his daily life. Dramatic Irony is displayed in this scene due to the audience’s knowledge that Algernon’s fake friend “Bunbury” is just a made up character.Algernon’s behavior towards Lane and his distaste for Lane’s opinions suggests he is an elitist. Believing that the rich are better that the poor. Algernon shows no compassion for Lane’s feelings, stating openly that “I don’t know that I am much interested in your family life Lane.” This interaction presents a satirical view of the Victorian class system. Wilde’s presentation of the unfair behavior, discrimination and double standards excepted from the upper class represents a criticism of the Victorian society and the unspoken rules of etiquette. Wilde uses the light -hearted comedy to draw attention to the elitist and irrational ideals that are upheld by the class system. Wilde’s intelligent presentation of the characters and humor satirizes his opinions so they are inoffensive and entertaining.

Algernon uses Bunbury not only as a made up friend but also as a worried excuse. In simple words, dramatic irony is expressed in the story when Jack and Algernon present their made up characters. There is also the form of situational irony, which is closely related to dramatic irony. It describes a difference between the expected result and the actual result in a certain situation. The situational irony is shown when the truth starts to unravel.

Jack finds out what happened to him as a child and why he does not know his parents. All the main characters somehow end up all in the same room. Lady Bracknell asks Ms. Prism about a baby she had wandered off years ago, her answer builds up the story linking events with evidences such as the bag misplaced in the train station; making the characters and the audience think that Miss Prism will turn out to be Jack’s mom but in the end Lady Bracknell just declares that Jack’s mom is her poor sister Mrs. Moncrieff making that scene very unexpected.Wilde’s life in many ways is presented in The Importance of Being Earnest, and I believe that within this play Wilde uses satire and humor to draw attention to the inconsistency of society. Wilde indirectly passes a commentary on the flaws of society that affected him badly. The Importance of Being Earnest is almost a definition of satire drawing attention to the vices of society, but also the discrimination and hypocritical behaviour of those who were part of it. I would define The Importance of Being Earnest as a social satire. The play exaggerates the negative aspects of the Victorian society and plays it up in a comical manner. Wilde’s clever use of wit and irony is used to indirectly make criticism of Victorian social expectations and behavior.

The irony continues to explain how Jack and Algernon turns out to be biological brothers. Like they were pretending to be earlier in the story to play out their game of Bunburyism. Jack’s reaction shows the proof of his happiness of his newfound brother. That same person that played his brother in their mind games with their friends and families. Irony has different uses that develop the value of entertainment in literature.

The three main forms of irony is present in the Importance of Being Earnest, where Oscar Wilde displays his creativity in telling a story by satirizing the trends of the Victorian era by just using characters; not actually talking about the Victorian era specifically in the play. Even though some of the characters lack knowledge about the forms of irony, the audience has all the information they need to interpret their own understanding behind the meanings of these ironies.

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Satire in the Importance of Being Earnest. (2016, Sep 15). Retrieved from

Satire in the Importance of Being Earnest

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