Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest still touches upon many social issues such as marriage, courtship, love, religion, integrity and morality. Marriage appears here as one of the primary forces motivating the plot of the playwright’s writing and as a subject for many philosophical conversations and literary discusses. We are going to depict the marriage in Earnest as an option or a necessary “business” move in an aristocratic society using the prism of Wilde’s point of view on Victorians era.
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The tone of the play appears to be comic. All that playwright wants is to make readers and audience laugh. Laugh on the aristocracy’s lusciousness. Author highlights the features of Victorians era society that are unusual and mostly fun comparing to the features of other social classes.
Wilde shows us relationships with a fictional love in their source. We call the love fictional because of unserious feelings of the main heroines Gwendolyn and Cecily built on just liking the name Ernest. Gwendolyn says about that to Jack,
Gwendolyn: … my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest; I knew I was destined to love you (Wilde, p. 141).
while Cecily creates in her diary a make-believe world in which she fantasizes a relationship with Ernest. In fact, the relationship is not with the real “Ernest”, neither with her ward Ernest, who is Jack in fact, nor with his fake brother Ernest (Algernon), who is really not a brother to Jack. Men used this name to hide their real personalities under it and create some new behaving models for fictional Ernests. It proves the idea of fictional love because we see the men that started their relationships on consciously fake and women with an imaginary love to name Ernest, but not to the men in fact.
“Earnest” as a name is also implicative of being honest and responsible, even if either of men lied about their names. “It turns out that the truth was told, and this rapid twist between truth and lies” in the end “shows how muddled the Victorian values of honesty and responsibility were” (Foster, p. 23).
When Jack wants to marry Gwendolyn he meets the rules and some preliminary qualifications traditional for upper class that he has to go through before being engaged to Gwendolyn. These “obstacles” presented us by Lady Bracknell, an aristocratic society representative. Will he make it or not depends on his political and historical background, social status and the amount of money he earns.
Lady Bracknell: Who was your father? He was evidently a man of some wealth. Was he born in what the Radical papers call the purple of commerce, or did he rise from the ranks of the aristocracy?
Jack: I am afraid I really don’t know. Well…I was found…in a hand-bag.
Lady Bracknell: You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter—a girl brought up with the utmost care—to marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel? Good morning, Mr. Worthing! (Wilde, p. 15).
As Lady Bracknell represents the aristocratic man, Wilde implies the absurdity of this kind of man with the kinds of questions she asks Jack. She expects, and accepts, clearly ridiculous answers to her questions. Her statement that she “[does] not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance” (Wilde, p. 16) illustrates Wilde’s opinion that “people of the Aristocracy are ignorant and uneducated” (Foster, p. 21). This displays the careful consideration of candidates in the upper class for marriage so they could be appropriate for conventional aristocracy.
Jack: I have a country house with some land, of course, attached to it, about fifteen hundred acres, I believe;
Lady Bracknell: A country house! How many bedrooms? Well, that point can be cleared up afterwards. You have a town house, I hope? A girl with a simple, unspoiled nature, like Gwendolen, could hardly be expected to reside in the country (Wilde, p. 14).
This part of dialogue and the rest of it in a playwrights’ artwork create a circumstance that supports our thesis of “business” marriage in aristocratic society among its members. It also clearly proves Wilde’s point of view on Victorians era relationships between people from aristocratic circles that all their moves were to keep the upper class in safety from lower-class people.
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Through the models of relationships presented in a play, Wilde conveys, according to Bloom (p. 143), “the notion that love of such kinds is entirely arbitrary, and relationships are based on deceit”. Marriages, he contends, “are simply an alliance between families to preserve the aristocracy” (Bloom, p. 143).
The Importance of Being Earnest is an excellent comedy, with its unusual exiting farce. Nevertheless, it contains many really serious social problems that can be talked about through many aspects. Oscar Wilde’s critical and ironic point of view serves as a source of many sharp issues that also could be discussed.
- Bloom, Harold. Oscar Wilde’s the Importance of Being Earnest (Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations). New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008. Print.
- Foster, Richard. “Wilde as Parodist: A Second Look at ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.” College English, Vol. 18.1 (1956): 18-23. Print.
- Wilde, Oscar. “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Negative Space. Scan. D. Price, conv. to web format J. Stratton, 2009. Web.