“The importance of being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde

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Oscar Wilde's universe in "The Importance of Being Earnest" is simply comedic. Throughout the play, the author employs humor to ridicule Victorian opinions on marriage at the time (Moss). According to the Oxford dictionary, satire is "the use of exaggeration or ridicule to denounce and reveal people's ignorance or vices in the light of current politics and other problems." Wilde employs epigrammatic dialogue to intentionally mock weddings in order to highlight the flaws of Victorian culture as a whole.
Wilde's critique of marriage begins with a conversation between Jack and Algernon about marriage proposals at the beginning of the play. Algernon tells Jack “I really do not see anything romantic in proposing. There is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty” (Wilde 10) . This is a comment that is meant to satirize the structure of marriages in Victorian society. Algernon is not convinced by the processes of marriage which in his view has lost romance. The structure of marriage is satirized again at the end of the play when Algernon proposes to Cecily. His ironic change of heart is used to emphasize on the acceptance of the Victorians to the structure and criteria of marriage.

There are two main couples in the play; Algernon and Cecily and Jack and Gwendolen, both women yearn to be married by a man called Earnest. They place emphasis on a name, something that is superficial and trivial. Wilde uses satire to exaggerate the middle class view of marriage as one based on materialistic values. It is clear that Gwendolen loves Jack but to her, the name Earnest is very important. Cecily also love Algernon but she also emphasizes the name Earnest. She says “There is something in the name that seems to inspire confidence, I pity any poor married woman whose husband in not called Earnest” (Wilde 34) . The static nature of their opinion is a mockery of a marriage institution.

Algernon as character in the play has been used to satirize the popular moral beliefs about marriages of the time. His speech employs sharp wit and sarcasm to criticize the behavior of married couples towards each other. For example, his statement “divorces are made in heaven” (Wilde 3) is an ironic inversion of the cliché that marriages are made in heaven. This statement satirizes the traditional view of a perfect marriage where the spouses are praised for showing their love in public. Wilde also corrupts the saying of “two is company, three is crowd” to ironically make fun of the nature of marriage. Algernon says “in married life three is company and two is none” (Wilde 44). This statement implies that marriage was a business arrangement based on wealth, status and property thus, bloodlines and family names were very important.

Works Cited

Moss, Joyce. "The Importance of Being Earnest", In Literature and its Time. Gale Group, 2002.

Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. New York : Dover Publications, 1990.

September 11, 2021


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