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Identity As A Name In The Importance Of Being Earnest

1387 words - 6 pages

Because this play is meant to embody victorian society, Wilde is able to interpret and criticize the high importance of social identity to Victorians. The encompassing critic that Wilde addresses in his script involves the corrupt nature of society and the hypocrisy of presenting oneself as a wholesome, earnest person when reality indicates otherwise. This play symbolically allows us to view the characters as an example of all elite Victorian society. Bromige declares that, “reading or watching the play is to observe the unconscious of the society of Wilde’s day” (1). The bulk of the play revolves around the character’s fixation on their reputation and their desire to be seen prestigious members of society; Wilde makes a mockery of these priorities to satirize aristocracy. When Jack first asks for Gwendolen’s hand in marriage, Lady Bracknell pointedly announces: “I feel bound to tell you that you are not down on my list of eligible young men... I have the have the same list as the dear Duchess of Bolton has. We work together, in fact” (Wilde Act 982). The way that Lady Bracknell casually but intentionally mentions her relationship with the Duchess shows her instinctual effort to make herself appear more prestigious through her elite acquaintance. She even implies her supposed intimacy with the Duchess by first referring to her as “the dear Duchess,” then declares that she works together with her. Further along in their conversation, Jack informs Lady Bracknell that he was found in a cloak closet and is without relations, to which she replies: “I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex, before the season is over” (Wilde Act 984). Lady Bracknell’s outrageous and unfeasible request is Wilde satirizing the high importance that society places on the wealth and status of one’s family. The audience is well aware that it is impossible to simply just produce relations because one can not decide for themselves the family in which they are born. Therefore, through Lady Bracknell’s absurd demand, Wilde subtly criticizes the Victorian’s conventional belief in the class system by highlighting the reality that one does not choose their relatives nor their patronymic.
Wilde’s encompassing critique of society involves how one’s identity parallels with where his/her surname is ranked in the hierarchal class system; thus, one’s family name inhibits respectable and earnest members of society to carry the status of aristocracy. In the mind of high society, Jack is unfit to be married to Gwendolen because he lacks relations and has no concrete ancestry that Lady Bracknell can deem worthy of her daughter. Although Lady Bracknell considers Jack’s lack of a secure aristocratic identity unbecoming, Wilde ironically develops him into the most morally sound and respectable character the play offers - which, through pathos, should prove him...

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