Comparing the Roles of Women in Arcadia, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Look Back in Anger
In Arcadia, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Look Back in Anger, the women characters play distinct roles in the dramas. However, the type of roles, the type of characters portrayed, and the purpose the women’s roles have in developing the plot and themes vary in each play. As demonstrated by The Importance of Being Earnest and Look Back in Anger, the majority of women’s roles ultimately reflect that women in British society were viewed to be unequal to men in love and in relationships and generally the weaker sex, emotionally, physically and intellectually. However, I have found an exception to this standard in the play Arcadia, in which Thomasina Coverly plays the role of a young genius.
In Oscar Wilde’s drama The Importance of Being Earnest, he uses light-hearted tones and humor to poke fun at British high society while handling the serious theme of truth and the true identity of who is really “Earnest.” Truth as theme is most significantly portrayed through the women characters, Gwendolen and Cecily but to present serious themes comically, Wilde portrays women to be the weaker sex of society, despite the seriousness of the subject—the identity of the men they want to marry.
Gwendolen and Cecily act like air-heads and are easily won over by the men they plan to marry. Gwendolen simply wants to marry a man named Earnest. She tells Jack “my ideal has always been to love someone of the name of Ernest” (I.381-82). The mere idea of marrying a man for his name shows how easily Gwendolen can attach herself to a man. Marriage is the most serious of all relationships and Gwendolen is foolish to determine her fate in marriage on the basis of a name. Just because a man’s name is Ernest, it does not necessarily mean he will embody such a characteristic. Similarly, Cecily has become fascinated with this man Ernest, having heard stories from her guardian, Jack. She also tells Algernon (Ernest) that she could only marry a man named Ernest! Again, this young woman is basing her love of a man on a name. Wilde wants to show that people in this society accept identities which often contrast with reality, but to do so he exposes the women characters to ridicule.
When the women discover that the men have lied to them about their identities, they turn against them. However, Gwendolen and Cecily are quick to reconcile with the men because Algernon and Jack tell them of their intention to be christened with the name Ernest. Both of these women’s obsession with faith in a name exemplifies their lack of rational thinking and intelligence. This weakness is magnified by the men who intelligently and deviously change their names to win over the women. Even though Wilde also pokes fun at the men, the roles of Gwendolen and Cecily portray women to be less rational than men and generally the weaker sex in dealing with...