The Importance of Being Earnest - Sample Essay
Everything which ought to be of importance becomes merely trivial”. Discuss the importance of being earnest as a comedy of importance and triviality. Oscar Wilde subverts Victorian values to mock and imply triviality of Victorian society in his play ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. Wilde forces the audience to confront their priorities and rethink the importance of life while also scrutinising the ignorance of materialistic fascination of the characters in upper class society through trivialisation of the importance of life.
Lady Bracknell’s character is arguably the main source of triviality in the play despite that fact she herself is not a trivial person. Wilde satirizes the ideas of marriage and personal fortune together contemplating how society views marriage as financial business hence Algernon’s remarks “business or pleasure” to introduce the argument of marriage in the play. “An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise pleasant or unpleasant; it’s hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself”.
This displays the inversion Wilde uses to illustrate the idea marriage isn’t primarily about happiness or love but rather the “pleasant state” as Lane utters to Algernon and Jack in Victorian society also attempting to say the experience of marriage is judged on how many times you’ve been married rather than the longevity of the marriage. Andrew Stott states comedy is “an experience of pleasurable merrymaking and social inversion” which play hinges around heavily.
Miss Prism’s response to Jack “I am unmarried” empathizes how marriage is the most powerful layer to protection of reputation despite the current situation of Jack’s identity. Personal fortune is regarded as an essential by the upper class of Victorian society “A hundred and thirty thousand pounds and in the funds Miss Cardew seems to me a most attractive young lady now that I look at her, few girls of the present day have any really solid qualities “The fact that solid attractive qualities only stem from money and fortune is clearly challenged and used to construct wit for the audience highlighting the close mined values of society.
Wilde’s intentions to trivialise everything about Victorian upper class values creates humour and mockery while at the same inverting expectations and subverting importance of marriage as business rather than personal satisfaction. Double identities, deception and death are all central notions within the play which allow elaborate male characters to misbehave and still keep the right moral picture in society through deception as shown by Jack.
“When one is placed in the position of guardian, one has to adopt a very high moral tone on all subjects. It’s one’s duty to do so”. The mistaken identity in the play of Jack Worthing’s character achieves pun as well as ‘earnest’ behaviour of Victorian characters to keep the right moral image. “A comedy then is problem solving story ending in resolution and order normally symbolised by marriage” Critic Alexander Leggatt proclaims the confusion registered in comedy somehow leads to marriage similar to IOBE.
Death can perhaps be seen as the most trivial thing in the play as both Algy and Jack plot theories kill off their imaginary way wood alter egos. “Before the end of the week I shall got rid of him” the language sums up how death is used as an excuse and a way of disposing people no longer relevant. Wilde criticises the implication of adopting such stereotypical moral positions which require responsibility, acceptance of social codes and suppression of individual freedom. Bracknell mentions how Bunbury is “shilly-shallying” over whether “to live or to die.
” When told in Act III that Bunbury has died suddenly in accordance with his physician’s predictions Lady Bracknell commends Bunbury for acting “under proper medical advice. ” Implying the impression unless you’re fit and healthy you don’t belong in society as you’re a liability to people. Besides giving the play a layer of dark humour the death humour subverts the idea of life being a work of art. Jack’s imaginary, wayward brother Earnest is a device not only for escaping social and moral obligations but also one that allows Jack to appear far more moral and responsible than he actually is.
Similarly, Algernon’s imaginary invalid friend Bunbury allows Algernon to escape to the country, where he presumably imposes on people who don’t know him in much the same way he imposes on Cecily in the play. “A man who marries without knowing Banbury has very tedious time of it” Wilde attempts to exploit the “lax” views Algy and Jack have on double identities and how their deception allows them to stay constructed to Victorian society. The word Earnest which pivots around the play is ironic as it inspires ‘absolute confidence’, ‘honesty’ and ‘responsibility’ which all the characters lack impeccably.
Wilde’s deconstruction of Victorian society through inversion of expectations ultimately leads to several concepts within the play and society itself being trivialised. “It’s the first time in my life that I have been reduced to such a painful position” the language indicates how arrogant upper class people only expect the lower orders to tell the truth. This implies the idea money can buy deception and double identities successfully. Imagery also portrays how language is used express the hidden sexual desires of characters throughout the play through crafty innuendo “ripeness can be depended on”.
Wilde clarifies his play as “Its philosophy is that we should treat all the trivial things seriously and the serious things in life with sincere and studied triviality” to demonstrate the idea of life within society is a game of indulging in of lies. Wilde challenges the continuous lie upper class society appears to be living in of having the right moral picture e. g. respect and responsibility while also appearing to conforming to social order despite the means of obtaining it by exposing their hidden desires.