“This play, while mocking deeply at the tribal customs of the late Victorians, has, at its heart, a wish to point the human race in the right direction: away from fraud, hypocrisy and such indecent preoccupation with material realities.”
TASK: Write whether you agree or disagree with the last paragraph in this blog.
I agree with the last paragraph of the blog, saying that Oscar Wilde was, indeed, renowned for his ridiculing of late Victorian society in The Importance of Being Earnest. However, I also like to think that Wilde had a didactic purpose to his writing and that he was maybe trying to teach society a thing or two about how they should really live, as well as satirizing society.
He mainly satirizes society through the characters of Lady Bracknell and her daughter, Gwendolen, and focuses on the shallowness of people. He does this through Gwendolen’s ridiculous, over-the-top obsession with the name “Ernest”, implying that someone’s name is all that matters in this society and not who the person really is.
This superficiality is further shown through Lady Bracknell and how she approaches Jack/Ernest’s marriage proposal to Gwendolen. She immediately produces a checklist and all the questions she asks him are about his finances and his housing situation. She asks very materialistic questions that show what the nobility of the late 19th century really cared about and that marriage was viewed as a business proposal, instead of a declaration of love. When she learns that he has a house on the “unfashionable” side of Belgrave Square, she replies that it can easily be altered but it’s ambiguous as to whether she really means. This only goes to further prove that image and reputation is all that really mattered in late Victorian society, and not personality or feelings.
Neither does Lady Bracknell approve of the lower classes being educated, or modern education in general, calling it “radically unsound” and that “it tampers with natural ignorance”. She believes that education is a “serious danger to the upper classes” and would lead to violence or riots in the middle of the fashionable area of London, as was the case in France with the French Revolution about a century prior to Wilde’s time. This also implies that Lady Bracknell likes control and she can control uneducated people – it’s much harder to manipulate people with an education.
Through Gwendolen’s and Lady Bracknell’s absurdities, Wilde highlights the hypocrisy and shallowness of the nobility in late Victorian society, while also writing with a didactic purpose. The didactic purpose being that, in order to to avoid the superficiality shown by Wilde, people should be the exact opposite of characters like Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell and learn from their follies.