The Importance of Being Ernest

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Oscar Wilde is remembered today for his use of epigrams and his plays. Wilde wrote ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ in which many people argue that it appears Wilde subverts the typical Victorian gender role. Gender roles are cultural and personal, they determine how males and females should think, speak, dress, and interact within the context of society. Masculinity and Femininity refer to the dominant sex role pattern in the vast majority of both traditional and modern societies: that of male assertiveness and female nurturance.It is very clear and evident that Wilde distinctively does subvert from these gender roles and in the process satirizes these Victorian values.

Upon reading the text, many people have concluded that even though it is clear that Wilde does subvert from the normal typical gender roles in the Victorian era ultimately he conforms to them in line with the structure of a well-made play. We are introduced to the characters and exposed to their behaviors, through this we see the subversion from society’s norms creating the disorder and confusion that aids the comedy within the play. However, by the end of the play there is harmony and peace; Gwendolen and Cecily end up getting married to Jack and Algernon exaggerating many of the conventions of the well-made play, such as the missing papers conceit (the hero, as an infant, was confused with the manuscript of a novel) and a final revelation. It was thought in the Victorian era that if a woman did not marry and produce children she had failed her duties as a woman or was thought of as ‘abnormal’. Marriage significantly signified a woman’s maturity and respectability as we see Lady Bracknell desperately tries to find companions for both Gwendolen and Algernon. It appears throughout the text that the women in the play have the upper hand but conclusively the men in the book win this gender ‘battle’ as the women end up falling in love with them and getting married, which is essential because comedies end in marriage to emphasize the idea of restoration and the cycle of life continues, additionally at the end of the play when Jack challenges Lady Bracknell over the marriage of Cecily and Algernon, “The moment you consent to my marriage with Gwendolen, I will most gladly allow your nephew to form an alliance with my ward’’ is of great significance because throughout the play, Lady Bracknell has the most power and in the end the power lies within the hands of Jack; the revelation at the end satirically undermines Lady Bracknell’s snobbish attitudes. One of Wilde’s main satirical targets in the play is the tendency of middle- and upper-class society to focus on the superficial trappings of respectability rather than examining what is really important, such as a person’s inner worth; this undermines Lady Bracknell’s power. This reflects that Wilde does indeed conform to the Victorian stereotypes as Victorian men had far more rights than their female counterparts.

Many rights were denied for women, such as voting and property ownership because of the Victorian attitude that men were superior in mind and body. This is seen through the character of Jack who by the end of the play we see dictating the events of the play “ she cannot marry without my consent…that consent I absolutely decline to give’’, Without Jacks permission both Lady Bracknell and Cecily cannot get what they desire, hence the reason why people argue that ultimately Wilde conforms to gender stereotypes as Victorian men were believed to be better able to make rational decisions than women of the same time. They were better educated and were strongly considered the heads of their families and this is observed in this part of the text. Jack here can be seen as superior and the ‘head of the house’ dictating what should/should not happen.

However, other critics argue that Wilde does subvert the stereotypical gender roles. William Archer...
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