Oscar Wilde's Use of Satire in the Importance of Being Earnest

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Oscar Wilde's Use of Satire in the Importance of Being Earnest

By | August 2010
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Oscar Wilde’s use of satire in The Importance of Being Earnest
“Ignorance is like an exotic fruit…” writes Oscar Wilde as he sets the literary table with a rich display of Victorian satire (Wilde). Born in Dublin to affluent parents, Wilde experienced a social advantage that gave him more than a taste of indulgent upper class life to ridicule. He attended Oxford on a scholarship and was considered a genius. Wilde was characterized as humorous, frank, and showy. Writing novels, poems, and essays as well, The Importance of Being Earnest was his most popular work. Oscar Wilde uses satire to ridicule Victorian concepts of earnestness, marriage, and female independence.

In the play, Wilde satirizes Earnest to mean more than just a name. The name is pun by itself (Moss). The characters, sober Jack and blithe Algornon, are thrown into the same title (Moss). Earnestness was a good, wanted quality of the Victorian time (Moss). Earnest means to be intellectual, to have deep thoughts, and to question things such as life. Earnest people are clear-headed and serious (Moss). It is ironic that two childish ladies, Gwendolen and Cecily, would long for a man named Earnest. “It has always been a girlish dream of mine to love someone whose name was Earnest. There is something in that name that seems to inspire absolute confidence,” admits Cecily (Wilde). Cecily bases her standards for a relationship on a name.

Algornon is also caught-up in the Victorian “dream” of being Earnest (Moss). When Jack tells the truth of his name being Jack, Algornon replies very shocked with, “You answer to the name of Earnest. You look like an Earnest. You are the most Earnest-looking person I ever saw in my life”(Wilde). Algornon characterizes his personality to his title, “Earnest.”

Shockingly, Earnest does not only mean intellectual. It also takes the definition of homosexual. To “love in Earnest” also means to love someone of the same sex (Moss). “He may even have taken a secret pleasure...