THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST - OSCAR WILDE - PLAYS - SATIRE - ESSAY
"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 wealth.
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.