Social Structure In Oscar Wilde's The Importance Of Being Earnest

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How and why is a social group represented in a particular way? In his play The Importance of Being Earnest (1895, London St. James’ theater), Oscar Wilde portrays the attitudes and society of Victorian upper class through character interactions within the ‘Bunburyist’ adventures of Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing. The play’s comedic elements, in addition to the portrayal of power structures, are used as an effective medium to challenge the viewer to reflect upon Wilde’s criticism on institutions and values of the aristocracy. In conjunction to this, deeper analysis can be conducteds about marriage in Victorian aristocracy and their attitudes to members of other social groups. Wilde portrays the upper class’ attitudes towards the rest of society in the conversation between Jack and Lady Bracknell in act 1: “[Lady Bracknell] The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes.” By saying this, Lady Bracknell refers to the lower classes being uneducated and uncivilized. She believes that the Victorian education system…show more content…
Especially those who are of lower status seem to address people differently depending on the power the character has. Wilde’s heroes “adapt identities to suit the occasion, - - imagine identities to suit the person with whom they choose to associate.” This phenomenon can be found in, for example, Gwendolen Fairfax. While she is with her mother, she is quiet, submissive, and abiding. However, in her encounter with Cecily, she assumes many modern traits, such as searching for “more personal power” (Fridell, pg. 27). Algernon also treats Lady Bracknell with respect, while with Jack he becomes much less reserved, discussing topics of adultery (“In marriage three, not two is company”) and the morality of the lower classes (Act
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