Idealism In Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband

1437 words - 6 pages

Idealism is the process of forming and pursuing ideas and values that are often unrealistic. An idealistic person holds high standards for their future. The vision that an individual has for themselves often plays a part in how their life occurs. Oscar Wilde’s 1895 satire, An Ideal Husband, depicts the lives of idealists and the fruition of their ideals. The play revolves around the tumultuous and highly public lives of Robert and Gertrude Chiltern. Robert is a prestigious member of the House of Commons married to an active and well respected socialite, Gertrude. The pair’s status and marriage are thrown into conflict when Gertrude’s old school nemesis, Laura Cheveley, attempts to blackmail Robert. Wilde’s popular comedy is brimming with witty epigrams, dramatic irony, and subtle symbolism. He demonstrates how the idealism of individuals in nineteenth century British society influences their lives. In the play, Wilde demonstrates that idealism has a significant effect on the destiny of individuals through the depiction of the Chilterns’ monetary and social standards.

Sir Robert Chiltern is a man who has invented a life for himself. He reveals this aspect of his personality as he says, “I had the double misfortune of being well-born and poor, two unforgivable things these days.” (Act 2; 23) Robert did not come from an old, wealthy family. Thus, he acquired the drive and ambition that poverty demands and that his social and professional circles lack. Other characters in the play view Robert as the ideal: a perfectly well-respected man with a clean slate. Little do they know, the skeleton in Sir Robert’s closet is the origin of his success. In his youth, he received nefarious advice from a mentor, and therefore came to possess a large sum of money. When he was young and impressionable, he was told that “…power over other men, power over the world, was the one thing worth having, the one supreme pleasure worth knowing, the one joy one never tired of, and that in our century the rich only possessed it.” (Act 2; 24) This was a creed the young Robert took to heart and adopted as the vision for his future. In his youth, Robert only saw money and power, and his vision turned into reality. Chiltern sold cabinet secrets for great financial gain and therefore achieved a lavish life and a respected position in the community. Robert Chiltern was written as an idealistic character who was successful in his endeavours to achieve the future he desired.

Although Robert achieved the goals he previously envisioned in his youth, Wilde kept his play realistic by producing characters who were human in their ideals. Robert’s idealistic and moral indecisiveness is clear when Laura Cheveley enters his life and orders him to support a fraudulent canal scheme. She is the only one who is knowledgeable of Chiltern’s previous transgressions against the House of Commons. Laura threatens to expose him to the public, and this panics Robert because he is worried of losing the...

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