Satire in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest
The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedy of manners, whereby Oscar Wilde uses satire to ridicule marriage, love and the mentality of the Victorian aristocratic society. It can also be referred to as a satiric comedy. What is a satire and what is Oscar Wilde trying to emphasize by employing it in his play? A satiric comedy ridicules political policies or attacks deviations from social order by making ridiculous, the violators of its standards of morals or manners. Usually, a satiric piece doesn't serve only as a form of criticism, but to correct flaws in the characters or to somehow make them better in the end.
The pun on the word "Earnest" suggests two things; it stands for the name but also refers to honesty and integrity. It is also known as a `one joke' or a play on words. Though the name is spelt as "Ernest" the reader still recognizes the double meaning of the title. Two of the main characters, Jack and Algernon, strive to be "Ernest" and "Earnest" in the play, yet they both deceive others to escape lives which they grow tired of. They both hope to marry the girls that they love, yet they are starting the relationships base on false pretence and lies. It is ironic that they both call themselves "Ernest," a name that suggests honesty and sincerity, yet they both create stories to escape something or the other. Jack creates a brother called "Ernest" in the city that he uses as a `scape goat' to leave his prim and proper, respectable country life, whereas Algernon creates a friend by the name of "Bunbury" to escape his aunt's high class society parties. He shows his lack of interest in such social events when he tells Jack,
She will place me next to Mary Farquhar, who always flirts with
her own husband across the dinner table. That is not very pleasant
It looks so bad. It is simply washing one's clean linen in public.
The Importance of Being Earnest focuses on two main couples, Jack and Gwendolen and Algernon and Cecily. Both Gwendolen and Cecily yearn to have a husband called "Ernest." They both place emphasis on such a trivial matter as a name. When Jack attempts to tell Gwendolen that his name is really "Jack" and not "Ernest" she replies saying, "Jack?... No, there is very little music in the name Jack, if any at all, indeed. The only really safe name is Ernest." Wilde deliberately uses farce in the play to exaggerate the mind frame of the upper class. It is seen here that Gwendolen loves Jack, but she places greater importance on silly, superficial and trivial matters such as a name, something a person has no control over. Similarly, Cecily also dreams of loving someone called "Ernest." She clearly states to Algernon, "There is something in that name that seems to inspire absolute confidence. I pity any poor married woman whose husband is not called Ernest." Again, Wilde is satirizing the institution of marriage, as it is not based on love, but on more vain...