It is said that Oscar Wilde’s plays “are apparently light hearted, but they contain strong elements of serious feeling in their attack on a society whose code is intolerant, but whose intolerance hypocritical” Discuss
“Importance of being Earnest” is definitely a play in which Oscar Wilde shows the hypocrisy of Victorian Society. The writer, in hidden meanings, tries to show the absurd behavior of upper class people of those era. There are a lot of dialogues and examples, which shows clearly the idea behind writing this drama. All the plays, written by Oscar Wilde, contains strong elements of serious feelings with the mixture of fun and pun. Importance of being earnest is a remarkable example of this kind of play, in which the writer using the technique of Satire reveals the social norms of the society. As we know that the primary purpose of literature is also to reform the society and to do this, different writers uses different techniques. Oscar Wilde is master in using these techniques. The writer has chosen the technique of satire to reform the society and to unhide the hypocrisy of Victorian Society. Let’s discuss in detail the different aspects of and technique which are used by the writer to attack the society. As we know that;
“Satire is the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.”
The writer in this play uses this technique freely. He is right in doing so. He, by making a mockery of the Victorian ideals, threw a satirical spotlight on the Victorian age as a whole. The double standards of this society are discussed in the play with the uses of witty remarks and absurd behaviours of the characters. In the play, both the girls fall in love not with the person or his characteristics but because of the name “Earnest”, which has no concern with love at all. It clears that the idea of living in an earnest manner was the topmost ideals of the Victorian society.
Another relevant aspect which is hypocrite against the society is the character of Lady Bracknell. She interrogates Jack, when she knows that her girls is attached to him. She likes each and everything in him but when it comes to his family, she clearly dismisses him because he does not know from which family he belongs to. Both the mother and daughters are corrupt in this case, the daughter likes the name Earnest but not the person or his characteristics and on the other side mother wants a person from a good family, specifically from upper class family with a good reputation. There is no value of person but the value of name as well as class. It does not matter, how good one is, his name and class is his impression. The character of Lady Bracknell is the symbol and is used for the whole Victorian society to tell the audience that how the upper class society is indulged in metaphysical things. They prefer style and class instead of a person. They does not lament on the death of person but they were used to think whether his death gives them benefit or not.
Not only Lady Bracknell but Jack and Algernon are also the people who represent the society of that era. They just try to free themselves from the duties and responsibilities. Their main purpose was to enjoy and find pleasure in any way. Both of them created fake people, so that they would be able to flee from their duties. Algernon likes to flee from his responsibilities by creating his invalid friend named as Bunburying. Similarly, Jack also has created a fake brother, who does not exist at all but in his imagination. He uses to flee from his house just to find pleasure. It is evident from the Act-I, when Algernon asks Jack that whether he has come her for the purpose of business or pleasure. In answer to his question, Jack replies that he has come here for the sake of pleasure. It is worthwhile to mention here that in Act-I, we find that Algernon has debt to pay but he is still enjoying, without fearing that he has to pay the bills. Oscar Wilde tries to portray that these characters has no concern with the work but with the luxuries of life.
Apart from the above these things, when Cicely and Gwendoline meets, their behavior is ridiculous. Gwendoline does not like sugar but Cicely puts four spoons of sugar in her tea. Likewise, Dr. Chasuble, is also the symbol of religious hypocrisy, who does not concern about the reformation of the society but his main concern is love with the maid. Both man and woman became the victims of hypocrisy, and the vice of double dealing. The writer is successful in showing that these evils persisted in Victorian society. Particularly, the upper middle classwas encumbered by the folly. The lives of both Jack and Algernon were full of vices and follies as they represent the upper middle class. Miss Prism is responsible symbol for absent mindedness of Victorian society.
To conclude the whole discussion, it can easily be compressed in simple words that the play is not a comedy play at all but it has the seriousness included in it. Critics rightly argued that Oscar Wilde’s plays were also for the serious people. Every dialogue, each situation and all the characters are an attack to the social norms of society of that era. In this backdrop, the paly can be a comedy and apparently it is light hearted but different aspects and events in the play contain strong elements of serious feelings because they attack on the Victorian society, whose code is intolerant, but whose intolerance hypocritical.