An Examination of Oscar Wilde’s Mockery of
Victorian Conventions in “The Importance of Being Earnest”
In Victorian society, the conventional norms of status, gender roles, and marriage were closely linked by an institution that men and women were placed with unrealistic demands and expectations from society. Women were brought up by their parents to become the perfect housewife, and men were forced into marriages based on status within the society. In Oscar Wilde’s play, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” he mocks the typical Victorian conventions and ideals of what society held on the individual. I will be examining the techniques Wilde uses, such as satire, symbolism, and farcical situations, and showing how he takes those Victorian values and changes their state of importance, where men will change their name for the women instead of vice versa, as well as the views he portrays of women, such is them having “Expected to be Idle and Ignorant” (Petrie 178).
In “The Importance of Being Earnest” both Gwendolyn and Cecily have dreamed of the perfect man whose name must be Ernest. The name Ernest not only represents a literal name, but also the dictation of the word earnest meaning to be sincere. Right from the start of Charles Petrie’s article, “Victorian Women Expected to be Idle and Ignorant,” he begins talking about how women were brought up, stating, “From infancy, all girls who were born above the level of poverty had the dream of a successful marriage before their eyes… (Petrie 180). Both Gwendolyn and Cecily make this fact true, as stated by Gwendolyn “…my ideal has always been to love someone of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence” (Wilde 1742). Wilde satirizes the name Ernest throughout the play, as seen in that quote, showing the ideal of a good earnest husband through a name. The long running satire has to deal with Jack and Algernon pretending their name be Ernest, instead of following the...
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