Oscar Wilde’s comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest, is a satire of everything stuffy and constrictive in the 19th and early 20th century. It shows the modern reader how different life was back then, and also how much remains the same. The play explores the theme of the relations between the sexes. It also highlights the way that all of us cherish illusions about ourselves and others.
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Wilde spares no one. Everyone is ridiculous. John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, for example, are self-centered and, of course, almost entirely idle. The fashionable, urban, Gwendolen Fairfax is a schemer, but her supposedly unsophisticated rural counterpart, Cecily Cardew, is equally calculating.
The dowager Lady Bracknell plays the game of marriage politics, is un-motherly, and a snob. Even Miss Prism, the governess, is a foolish and fallible creature. Canon Chasuble seems totally unconnected with spirituality. They are all skewered with equal ferocity. Only the butlers seem relatively free of idiocies.
The social constraints on women and men in expressing their feelings for one another are also parodied. A modern couple would not have to answer to Lady Bracknell to obtain permission to marry. On the other hand, girls still fantasize about boys they like. Today, however, they might post blog posts of fan fiction instead of writing an imaginary diary, as Cecily did.
Wilde also satirizes the class distinctions that obsessed so many people. For example, Algernon deplores the lax morals of the servant class. However, he himself lives by fibs and outright lies.
This play holds up a mirror to all of us, even after a century. People are foolish and they don’t always see themselves or others honestly and fully. Wilde shows us this with immense humor.
The Heart of Darkness, exploring the impact of interior Africa on European colonials, seems at first glance to be filled with racist references. However, this impression dissipates when the story is more closely examined. Conrad actually seems deeply sympathetic with the indigenous people, and their oppression and near-enslavement by the colonial personnel.
The descriptions of the landscape provide a vivid sense of the way that Europeans felt when confronted with an utterly alien landscape, flora, fauna, and people. Conrad, for example, repeatedly notes the darkness and the thickness of the forest, even a short distance from the shore, and speaks of the darkness at its center. He is talking here as much about the unknown rather than an absence of light, although rain forests can be dark. The skillful speech of Mr. Kurtz is even described as being light coming out of the deep darkness of the continent.
The author is trying to convey the complete lack of fit between most of the expectations, behaviors, planning and responses of the colonials, on the one hand, and the realities of the continent itself, on the other. In spite of the greater firepower that the colonials possess, Conrad shows the reader, disease and madness claim many casualties.
This reminds the modern reader of the way that high tech armies throw themselves at trouble spots around the world, and end up baffled and ineffective. The land, the climate, the terrain, and the people, just make overcoming the local situation nearly impossible.
This novel makes the extraction of ivory and other resources seem all the more ludicrous, and wasteful of lives. Conrad makes a powerful and moving argument against the whole colonial enterprise, in spite of using the racist locutions that were common in his era. This book should perhaps always be read in concert with some literature by Africans themselves, just to give a different perspective on the region and its issues.