Being Earnest: Oscar Wilde's Criticism On The Upper Class

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arch 2018 The Importance of Being Earnest: Oscar Wilde’s Criticism on the Upper Class Using humor, cleverness, and style, Oscar Wilde illustrates the lives of the Victorian upper class in The Importance of Being Earnest. More specifically, the “Trivial Comedy for Serious People” reveals in a satirical manner the insignificant concerns of Great Britain’s aristocracy. In the introduction of The Picture of Dorian Gray and Other Writings, editor Richard Ellmann creates an overview of Wilde’s best known work. Describing how the play differs from the Irishman’s other writings, Ellmann assesses, “What seems clear is that Wilde has turned here from direct onslaughts upon conventional morality to a more olympian amusement” (xviii). Wilde utilizes …show more content…

Author Brigitte Bastiat describes how Wilde exemplifies these gender roles in her essay “The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) by Oscar Wilde: Conformity and Resistance in Victorian Society.” In the essay, Bastiat claims the play “suggest[s] that the gender order may be disrupted and changed, and Oscar Wilde was certainly one of the first ones to do so … as a means of expression for his questioning and mockery of both the social and gender orders.” Wilde has the characters hold sexist judgements against one another to reveal how arbitrary the upper class’ opinion were on gender roles. In Act I of The Importance of Being Earnest, Algernon presents this misogynist claim: “The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, and to someone else if she is plain” (899). Not only does this statement suggest the purpose of a woman is to please a man, it shows the upper class cares about appearances. Nevertheless, the women in the play are equally as vain. Bastiat makes a similar comparison in her essay by stating, “In the play, Algy and Jack are idle and lazy, but morally the women are not better than them: like them, they are idle, lie, cheat and are interested in money.” Both Gwendolen and Cecily request that their partner’s names be “Ernest” and are pitted against one another when they believe they were engaged to the same man. Furthermore, Gwendolen disapproves of men who are involved with the public sphere, and she judges her father in Act II by advocating, “The home seems to me to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painly effeminate, does he not?” (913). Even though women were discouraged from being involved with the public sphere, Gwendolen’s disapproval for any gender stepping up to the public sphere shows Wilde’s

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