Analysis of Humor in the Importance of Being Earnest

Topics: Social class, Working class, Sociology Pages: 5 (1723 words) Published: May 7, 2013


The Importance of Being Earnest is replete with two elements: pun and paradox. These two are played up immensely to present a very humorous approach to cultural criticism. In essence, it is a satirical comedy on the aristocratic class during the Victorian Era. The text is full of epigrams that expose the characters’ views on lying, marriage, reputation, society, gender, romance and love. Additionally, the play keeps the audience involved by using several paradoxes- including inversions of reality and witty comments.

Aristocrats seem to have very skewed notions about marriage. Algernon considers marriage to be a business deal rather than a means to enjoy the pleasure of companionship. He considers marriage ‘demoralizing’ when his butler, Lane, tells him that he may not enjoy high quality champagne after marriage. Algernon also uses a witty inversion when he claims that ‘Divorces are made in heaven’. Further, he asserts, ‘in marriage, three is company and two is none.’ Such lines exhibit Algernon’s views about marriage and loyalty in a relationship.

Gwendolen and Cecily’s desire to marry someone names Ernest shows that they care less about love and more about social titles. Cecily’s act of marrying Algernon, within the realms of her imagination, go on to show how lost she is in her own world. It is rather amusing to hear her write letters to herself and even buy an engagement ring on behalf of Algernon.

Probably the most humorous views on marriage are those of Lady Bracknell. She is not in favor of long engagements since it may tell a couple more about each other’s personalities than is recommended. She also cares more about social class, connections and wealth while searching for suitors for her daughter. She also tells her daughter that engagements should come as a ‘surprise’ to young women. Hence, Lady Bracknell considers her daughter to be a commodity-with no wishes of her own- ready to be sent off with a stranger solely on the basis of his social standing.

However, this is not restricted to the upper classes. Lane also exclaims that her marriage was a result of a ‘misunderstanding.’

The Aristocratic class also placed too much importance on money and personal wealth. Lady Bracknell’s standards of evaluating Jack as a potential husband are quite shallow. She questions him about his assets, land and social connections- morality and character take a back seat. She rejected Jack but had to accept him eventually in order to get Algernon married to Cecily- a girl with significant wealth. Such silliness makes the characters quite comical.

Another amusing aspect of the play is the upper class’ views on gender. Algernon makes rather condescending comment, albeit in a humorous way, when he states that girls rarely marry the men they flirt with. It can be assumed that he thinks women have low morals- flirting with one man, marrying another. Algernon also uses a funny inversion when he considers women flirting with their own husbands to be ‘scandalous’. He also speaks of women in highly derogatory terms when he claims ‘ The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, and to someone else, if she is plain.’ This is a perfect explanation of the shallow, amoral mindset of the aristocrats. Wilde also comes up with several witty comments to entertain his audience. A great example is ‘All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.’ It is also interesting to see how quickly Cecily and Gwendolen forgive the men for their lies- almost as if they were desperate. Throughout the play, there is a subtle hint of thoughtlessness amongst all women. It seems as if Wilde has portrayed his women as mindless creatures- easily fooled by ‘cunning’ men.

Apart from all this, Wilde also criticizes the aristocratic culture by making sarcastic references to their regard for relatives and...
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