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Social Satire in “Importance of Being Earnest”

“The Importance of Being Earnest” is a play completely focusing on the satire in it. In some parts it is extremely obvious and transparent while in some it is harder to notice but still, it is present. The name of the play itself is a pun seeing that it could refer to a man named Ernest but it could also refer to someone being sincere and serious. Both main characters have invented new people who do not exist just for their personal gain.

While Algernon invented ‘Bunbury’ to save himself from duties and dinners, Jack invented ‘Ernest’ so he could lead a double life in country and city. There are a lot of thing that Oscar Wilde targeted with his satire, some of them being, marriage, class, relationships and love, and, last but not least, society as a whole. With his satire Wilde is criticizing while also making the morals and standards of the Victorian era seem ridiculous.

The first target of Wilde’s mockery and satire is the concept of marriage.

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From the beginning of the play he emphasizes the wrong image and concept of marriage. From the early points in the play the subject is marriage and from then on it never leaves for very long. For instance, first Lane and Algernon talk about if marriage is demoralising and if it is pleasant od unpleasant. Later in the play, Jack and Algernon also discuss if a marriage proposal is business or pleasure. Lady Bracknell’s assumptions and willingness to interview every man who proposes to her daughter reflect the beliefs of the people in that age; that marriage is mostly about income, respectability and social position.

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The only reason why Lady Bracknell does not agree with her daughter, Gwendolen, marrying Jack is that he is an orphan, even though Gwendolen claims to be in love with him. Another obvious thing is that both girls, Gwendolen and Cecily, have unrealistic and funny ultimatums for marriage; they both refuse to marry any man whose name is not Ernest. They both live in some sort of an imaginary world. They were both ready to give up loves of their lives for such a trivial reason. Wilde shows that these people do not think of marriage as a loving union but as a social adventure.

Love and relationships are another big target of Wilde’s, seeing as he is highlighting that these people do not really care about feelings. Again, both Gwendolen and Cecily can be used as a best example, considering that they both refuse to marry their suitors when they find out they are not really called Ernest. They seemed not to care about love or their feelings. Wilde also shows how twisted their logic about relationships was, considering that Cecily created, and had even been engaged on and off with a man who knew nothing about it and did not give his consent. At the end it is seen how the Ernest she supposedly fell in love with did not even exist.

As for the issues of class, society and morality, those are the topics seen all throughout the play. Almost every character has some rule or norm that they say is polite or unpolite, acceptable or unacceptable. All those norms display the strict code that was used in Victorian era. Wilde is not really addressing any issues of what is and what is not moral, he simply emphasizes that the moral of his play is not really about people being earnest but disrespectful instead. Wilde again makes fun of Victorian society by posing women as superiors to men. The women in the play seem to be the ones who make all the decisions. On the other hand, Lady Bracknell is the best representative of the upper class in that era. She thinks very little of those without money or title and considers people in the upper class more important and worthy. In addition to that she also represents the society in hypocrisy, highlighting the fact that no one cares about people’s sincerity and personality but their wealth and name. For example, even though she did not think of them as equal, she started to like Cecily and Jack when she found out that she had money and that Jack was her nephew and that his real name was Ernest.

In conclusion, the play is strongly focused on the vanity of society. Both Algernon and Jack take the identity of “Earnest”, when in reality they both want to start a life based on lies. People get married just for the money and they judge someone without really knowing much about them. Wilde presented the people of Victorian upper class as snobs and, in a mocking way, revealed the trivial and silly situations and matters that they thought were important.

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Social Satire in “Importance of Being Earnest”. (2020, Sep 10). Retrieved from

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