Tuesday, February 18, 2014


"The Importance of Being Earnest" as a Satire

            The Importance of Being Earnest is a short play written by Oscar 
Wilde, who lived during the Victorian Era. The play itself has a very 
deep meaning, criticizing the people of the Victorian Era, yet it seems quite 
trivial. However, people from the Victorian Era did not realize that they 
were the ones being criticized, since it was Wilde’s most successful 
work. This shows that Oscar Wilde was a very clever man, who 
managed to trick people, as he was well aware that people do not 
like to be lampooned. The Importance of Being Earnest is therefore 
a cleverly subversive criticism of the audience it was meant to entertain.
            The people of the Victorian Era were true hypocrites. To this day, 
people know the Victorian people were hypocrites; perhaps the rigid 
expectations of the Era gave them no choice. The people of the Victorian 
age are known for being “moralizers”. They felt like they had to lie all 
the time, but then when someone found out, they would try to find a 
way to escape. This kind of things happened especially among the 
middle class and the upper class and Wilde demonstrates this 
through the characters in the play, especially Algernon Montcrieff 
and Jack Worthing. Their reason for lying was they had no other way
 to keep their reputations. 
            Daily life during the Victorian Era was very restricted. In some 
ways, appearance also became a major concern for the people of 
the Victorian Era. Men had to restrain themselves from openly gambling, 
being unfaithful to their wives, or marrying below themselves. Algernon 
well knew that the Victorians were living a lie when he declared the 
English morals were no better than the French who were unfaithful to 
their wives all the time.
            To state his opinions in a satirical manner, Oscar Wilde used 
his skills in literary style. For example, he used puns. One of the 
examples of his puns would be the title of the book itself. “Earnest” 
in the title of the book, meaning very genuine and open, is a pun 
because Jack who pretends be Earnest, is not earnest at all. He 
pretends to be Jack in the city and Ernest in the country. This proves 
that Wilde wanted to show his audience that they were hypocrites 
because the way they acted in the public was different from the way 
they acted in their private lives.
            Another example of his skills in literary style would be 
epigrams and contradictions. He used epigrams throughout the book. 
One of the examples is the character Miss Prism. She said, “No married
 man is ever attractive except to his wife.” First of all, she states the 
obvious. However, married men can also be attractive to other women. 
Here, Wilde tries to attack marriage during that time. An example of his contradictions is the line of Algernon, “What a fearful liar you are, Jack.
 I have not been called back to town.” This is another form of hypocrisy, 
where Algernon seems to contradict himself. He lies to everyone about 
being his brother, Ernest. Now he says that Jack is lying that he has 
been called back to town. This proves that Oscar Wilde was a clever
 and witty man with critical thinking and hard opinions about the people 
of the Era he lived in.
            Oscar Wilde also used his characters as cleverly subversive 
symbols. One of the examples would be Jack. Jack himself is a 
hypocrite in many ways. He pretended to have a brother called 
Ernest, so that he is able to do whatever he wanted and still keeps 
his reputation. He considers many things a taboo subject to talk 
about, such as modern culture. This is the example of people who 
demanded respect, but wanted to do unrespectable things.
            Another significant character that shows hypocrisy is Lady 
Bracknell. She is a symbol of the upper class of the Victorian Era. 
At first she disagrees that Algernon should marry Cecily. However, 
when she finds out that she has “a hundred and thirty thousand
 pounds in the Funds”, she totally changes her mind when she says
 that Cecily is “a most attractive young lady”, now that she looks at 
her. This shows that Lady Bracknell only cares about money. She 
even thinks that her daughter’s and nephew’s partners should have 
            The Importance of Being Earnest is truly an impressive work 
of Oscar Wilde. It is a clever book, a very subversive one too. It criticized
 the audience it was meant to entertain. The historical evidence of the 
Victorian Era supported this because they were hypocrites who needed 
to be criticized in the hope of bringing about change. Wilde criticized 
his audience by using clever literary style and hidden symbols in his 
characters. Therefore, the purpose of Wilde’s work, which was to criticize
 his hypocritical audience, was successfully achieved.   


Works Cited
“Victorian Age.”  Amicicg Altervista. 05 October 2012
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. Ed. Moliken, Paul, and Lisa Miller. Prestwick,
House ed. Clayton, Delaware, Prestwick House, Inc., 2006.

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting review, thank you. Poor Oscar, such a tragic end to a gifted but troubled life. We recently found a wonderful old postcard of him looking very young and dapper. The postcard and a bit about his final months (and humiliations) in France here


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