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The concept of marriage has been given preeminence in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Love is the thing that people of any social class aspire to, and marriage can be the logical consequence of it.In the play, marriage is discussed in the context of plot progression and as a subject for theoretical assumption and discussion. All throughout The Importance of Being Earnest, marriage is present as the main topic, thus demonstrating the importance that society accorded this matter.
Although there are varying views on the subject among various characters, it is evident from reading the play that the matrimony institution was held in high esteem at that time. While there is a division on whether marriage is pleasant or unpleasant, all the characters agree that love and marriage are essential parts of life. (Wilde 5)
The Algernon’s View on Marriage
To underscore the importance of matrimony, the author introduces the subject in the opening part of the play. It is used in a discussion between Algernon and his servant, Lane. Once the subject is introduced, it becomes a recurring concept in the entire play. First, the butler insinuates that married households usually lack a sense of taste to a point where they cannot purchase “first-rate” champagne. Then he observes that the champagne in a bachelor establishment is of higher quality, and that is the reason why servants tend to over drink. This makes Algernon wonder if the marriage has become so demoralizing to a point where people lack a sense of taste. Despite the butler’s failed marriage, he still thinks that love and marriage is a pleasant experience that anyone should endeavor to have. (Wilde 6)
Although Algernon’s view on love and marriage is not known during the conversation with his butler, we get to know his thoughts on the subject in a monologue where he claims that marriage is an institution that has “absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.” (Wilde 5) In the ensuing conversation with Jack, Algernon’s thoughts on marriage come out on the surface. During the pleasantries, Jack claims that he decided to travel from the country to town purposely for pleasure.
As the conversation with Algernon continues, Jack claims that he has come to propose to Gwendolen, the girl he has been flirting with. This throws his friend Algernon aback since he believes that a proposal is more of a business venture than pleasure. According to him, marriage kills the excitement of being in love and leads to uncertainty. (Raby 26)
Algernon Moncrieff has such a negative mentality on marriage to a point where he vows to “forget the fact” that he is married the moment he does so. This mentality, according to Jack, is what led to the formation of Divorce Courts, but Algernon disagrees and claims, “Divorces are made in Heaven.” (quoted from Wilde 7) Defending his position, Algernon claims that most married people do not value their marriages, and most of them are even capable of flirting with other men while their husbands are sitting right across the dinner table.
Although Algernon is opposed to the idea of his first cousin Gwendolen getting married to Jack, he advises him that he will have to lie occasionally to be able to get away from his wife. This clearly shows that Algernon Moncrieff thinks that all marriages are unpleasant an opinion that Jack and Lane do not share. (Raby 28)
Lady Bracknell’s Views on Marriage
On her part, Lady Bracknell addresses the issue of marriage by claiming, “An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be.” By looking at the set of questions that Lady Bracknell subjects Jack, it is clear that she has a distorted view on love and marriage.
By looking at the list of bachelors and the prepared script that Lady Bracknell addresses Jack from, it is apparent that the social class on which the story is based viewed marriage in terms of social standing, income, and character of the participants. Indeed, Lady Bracknell does not seem to have respect for the marriage institution, and that is why she tries to pair Algernon with Mary, who is already married. (Wilde 11)
Although Algernon is cynical about marriage institution and thinks that people’s opinions on the topic are “somewhat lax,” his views on marriage and divorce change once he meets and falls in love with Cecily. On his part, Jack is a romantic who believes that having the right attitude towards marriage is the ingredient that makes it last.
Although he believes the truth “isn’t quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl,” (Wilde 91), he ends up telling Gwendolen the truth once he realizes that it is not in his nature to lie. Once Jack apologizes to Gwendolen, her reaction becomes a clear pointer that she was also cynical about men and the marriage institution in general. (Wilde 148)
This essay analyzed the concept of marriage in The Importance of Being Earnest. y. In summary, Wilde has brought out the nature of marriage in the morality of Victorian society. As shown by the quotes from the text, the characters are divided into those who believe that marriage is pleasant (that is Algernon’s view on marriage) and those who believe that it is unpleasant (that is Lady Bracknell’s view on the theme). Even among those who believe marriage is unpleasant, something happens at the end that restores their faith in love and the marriage institution as a whole.
Raby, Peter. The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde, 1997. Cambridge University Press. 25-41. Print.