The Importance of Being Earnest: Wilde's Wit in Use

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In researching the ideas and themes behind Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, I stumbled upon numerous questions and underlying themes which I plan to dissect thoroughly in the following body of this paper treating each question individually and in an abstract manner. The questions I encountered ranged from the incestual tendencies of Lady Bracknell in relation to the gothic genre to Wilde's use of food as a weapon and a means of demonstrating one's power.

Before diving into the questions in mind it is crucial to the betterment of one's understanding of the play to understand what each character in the play represents. More than any other character in the play, Jack Worthing represents conventional Victorian values: he wants others to think he adheres to such notions as duty, honor, and respectability, but he hypocritically flaunts those very notions. Indeed, what Wilde was actually satirizing through Jack was the general tolerance for hypocrisy in conventional Victorian morality. Jack uses his alter-ego Ernest to keep his honorable image intact. Ernest enables Jack to escape the boundaries of his real life and act as he wouldn't dare to under his real identity. Ernest provides a convenient excuse and disguise for Jack, and Jack feels no qualms about invoking Ernest whenever necessary. Jack wants to be seen as upright and moral, but he does not care what lies he has to tell his loved ones in order to be able to misbehave. Though Ernest has always been Jack's unsavory alter ego, as the play progresses Jack must aspire to become Ernest, in name if not behavior. (Wilde) Algernon Moncrieff the plays second hero is a proponent of aestheticism and a stand-in for Wilde himself, as are all Wilde's dandified characters, including Lord Goring in An Ideal Husband, Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere's Fan, Lord Illingworth in A Woman of No Importance, and Lord Henry Wootton in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Unlike these other characters, however, Algernon is completely amoral. Where Lord Illingworth and Lord Henry are downright evil, and Lord Goring and Lord Darlington are deeply good, Algernon has no moral convictions at all, recognizing no duty other than the responsibility to live beautifully. (Foster) Both Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew provide Wilde with opportunities to discuss ideas and tout the New Woman near the turn of the century. They are curiously similar in many ways, but as the writer's tools, they have their differences. Both women are smart, persistent and in pursuit of goals in which they take the initiative. Both women are perfectly capable of outwitting their jailers. For both women, appearances and style are important. Gwendolen must have the perfect proposal performed in the correct manner and must marry a man named Ernest simply because of the name's connotations. Cecily also craves appearance and style. Both women, despite their differences, are products of a world in which how one does something is more important than why. Cecily and Gwendolen differ in some aspects of their personalities and backgrounds. Gwendolen, on one hand, is confident, worldly, and at home in the big city of London. On the other hand, Cecily is introduced in a garden setting, the child of a more sheltered, natural, and less-sophisticated environment. Gwendolen provides Wilde with the opportunity to discuss marriage, courtship and the absurdities of life. Her pronouncements on trivialities and her total contradictions of what she said two lines earlier make her the perfect instrument for Wilde to provide humor and to comment on inane Victorian attitudes. Cecily provides Wilde with an opportunity to discuss dull and boring education, Victorian values, money and security, and the repression of passion. (Foster) The most memorable character and one who has a tremendous impact on the audience is Lady Augusta Bracknell. Wilde humorously makes her the tool of the conflict, and much of the satire. For the play to end as a...
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