Silly or Sensible? the Real Fools in the Importance of Being Earnest

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Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedy that used the figure of the upper class dandy to critique the narrow-mindedness of the middle class in the 1890s. What makes this play so funny is that the upper class is illustrated as silly when they try to mock the earnest middle class. Proud characters who were bred in high society, such as Lady Bracknell and her daughter Gwendolen, may think that they are making particularly nasty snubs, but they do not seem to realize that Wilde cleverly plays the joke on them. The receivers of the ‘nasty snubs,’ actually are sarcastic in turn, but the upper class fails to notice it because of their narrow-mindedness. In fact, it is the middle class who are portrayed as the characters with the most sense in the play. Through the use of satirical and sarcastic language, Wilde reveals the lack of imagination in the upper class and sensibility in the earnest middle class of Britain in the 1890s.

The lack of sensibility is introduced to the audience in the very opening of the play. Algernon, nephew of Lady Bracknell and best friend of Jack, is rather dim-witted. However, as an upper-classman, he deludes himself into thinking that he is witty and too good for those of lower status. For example, his manservant Lane, is a delightful character seen only in Act I. Obviously, he is not in the same rank as Algernon, judging by the fact that he is serving Algernon. Algernon gives his remarks on the topic of marriage, and Lane sees it fit to give his input on the topic. “’ I have had very little experience of it [marriage] myself…I have been married once…’ ‘I don’t know that I am much interested in your family life, Lane’ (1699-1700). Lane politely gives his input, because just prior to this discussion, Algernon was upset that Lane did not listen to him play a piece on the piano and comment on the brilliancy of it. Lane sarcastically told him that he “didn’t think it polite to listen,” but Algernon did not catch the snub...
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