Timeless Message Of Equality In Oscar Wilde's The Importance Of Being Earnest

1974 words - 8 pages

Timeless Message of Equality in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest

 
Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest satirizes Victorian society.  The witty epigrams of his characters provide light comedy masking the underlying theme of criticism of the Victorian way of life.  Wilde's effective use of humour diffuses the tense theme of his work.  In a Victorian society that emphasized progress, it was precarious for artists like Oscar Wilde to express an imperfect interpretation of life in nineteenth-century England.  Wilde's attack on the ethics of his era is an attempt to fulfill the author's prophecy that art has the power to dictate life, not merely imitate it (614-615).  At a time when the world measured progress in empirical research, Wilde chose to use the English language rather than the scientific method as his mean to transform society.  The Importance of Being Earnest satirizes two main social constructs:  social class and gender relations.

            In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde makes fun of characters from the upper class to bring about change in the social construct of the class system.  Wilde satirizes the upper class? pompous attitude, ideas of progress, and emphasis on earnestness.  Wilde identifies the pompous attitude of the upper class by creating characters with distorted perceptions of their self-importance in society.  When Lane the servant says there were no cucumbers at the market, ?[n]ot even for ready money? (8), Algernon seems surprised that his wealth has not given him a slighted chance to obtain cucumbers over the common man.  Algernon?s subordinate view of Lane also symbolizes his arrogance.  As the story opens, Algernon wants to talk to Lane about himself, but as soon as Lane mentions something from his own personal life, Algernon lazily infers ?I don?t know that I am much interested in your family life...? (2).  Algernon?s view of lower class that ?[t]hey seem as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility? (2) is parallel to the Victorian upper class condescending view of the lower class.  As the stock characters of Algernon and Lane methodically follow the mold of master and servant in this hilarious story, their conventional behaviour becomes a source of humour and satire itself.  The ?yes sir, no sir? attitude of Lane is mixed with his successful attempts to match wits with his employer, making the speech between Algernon and Lane appear confrontational.  Through Lane, Oscar Wilde is assaulting the pretentious attitude of the Victorian elite who believe they are more important to society than the lower class members.  His intelligent portrayal of Lane suggests there is no discrepancy in intelligence between upper and middle class individuals and topples the social construct of the class system.

            Oscar Wilde satirizes the upper class? idea of progress by making short remarks about the importance of reading, the effectiveness of modern...

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