Importance of Being Earnest as a social satire | Vanity of Victorian Class
It is no exaggeration to say that “Importance of Being Earnest” is a social satire. Oscar Wilde has targeted the Victorian Society of England in his own manners. A lot of symbols are there in the play, which in hidden meanings are referring something to the audience. Every word, each dialogue and all characters of the play satirize the society. Oscar Wilde tries to cover every aspect of life. From religious class to an ordinary class, the writer targets everything. If a society has no morality then it would not survive. It is prime duty of the artist to satirize the society in case it is crossing its limits. From “Importance of Being Earnest”, it seems that Oscar Wilde has fulfilled his duty. It is undeniable fact that “Importance of Being Earnest” is a social satire.
Why “Importance of Being Earnest” is a social satire?
Some poets, writers, and dramatists consider their responsibility to satirize society through their work. Thus, the first reason behind it is that Oscar Wilde, like other dramatists, considered it his responsibility to aware the people of their snobbish attitude. Doing so, he tries to correct the absurd behavior of people. The second reason is that the Victorian Society used to flee away from its responsibilities. It used to focus only on appearances. Showing off was their prime purpose. Not only Oscar Wilde but also many other writers tried their best to speak against it. In a usual manner, “Importance of Being Earnest” is a direct attack on Victorian Society.
To exemplify, Earnest flees from his house and enjoys luxuries of life. A person can have children besides wedlock and no one is going to question him if his apparent image is maintained. Thus, that society was far away from morality. These reasons force Oscar Wilde to do social satire in form of “Importance of Being Earnest”.
How “Importance of Being Earnest” is a Social satire?
There are a lot of examples in the play which prove that the play is a mockery of Victorian Society. Lady Bracknell’s character is important in this context. She is representative of upper class/Victorian Society but in negative manners. She is style and fashion conscious. In that age, when people become wise, Lady Bracknell is foolish. However, she knows the importance of money. She has prepared a list of people, who are wealthy and is going to interview them to select a good husband for Gwendoline. She rejects Jack because his parentage is unknown. In her eyes, if her daughter solemnizes marriage with Jack, it would disrespect her. She is a narrow-minded, conservative, and ruthless woman.
It seems that Oscar Wilde has presented her in the play to create humor but it is also true that the primary purpose of her is to tell people about the foolishness of Victorian Society.
Algernon Moncrieff’s Lavish Lifestyle:
The character of Algernon Moncrieff is also of the same kind. He also belongs to the same class. Life of Algernon Moncrieff is comfortable but his bills are overdue. He has nothing to eat but his dresses are up-to-date. For a living, he does nothing. Even in poor condition, he shows off. He has created a fictional character named “Bunbury” to save himself from duties. Lady Bracknell utters an important dialogue, which is worth referring here. She says, “Algernon has nothing but his debts to depend upon”. He has no worries. He has nothing to do with responsibility. His attitude is evident from his actions. For instance, he tears his letters, which are actually bills, because he cannot pay them. His own dialogue is also
“Half of the chaps who get into the Bankruptcy court are called Algernon.” To summarize, Algernon’s actions also prove that “Importance of Being Earnest” is a social satire.
The word Earnest:
Title of the play “Importance of Being Earnest” itself is a social satire. The word earnest is loveable. Both the girls of this play are in love with the person having name “Earnest” instead of his moralistic qualities. In Miss Gwendolen Fairfax eyes, this word has music of its own. It is not the person who is charming but the name itself. It is the case with Miss Cecily Cardew; she writes letters to Earnest and sees himself in her dreams. Oscar Wild through this wants to prove that the typical girls have created their ideals. They live in imaginary worlds. Moreover, they focus on self-improvement.
Tea ceremony scene in Act-II is fully satirical. They start a foolish war while serving tea. Servants become just spectators of it. Both these ladies are representative of young girls of Wilde’s era. The audience can watch and laugh at their unwise behaviors. It also moralizes the audience and compels it to think twice on their attitude in case it belongs to the upper class. Thus, it also proves that “Importance of Being Earnest” is a social satire.
Religious Satire as Part of Social Satire in “Importance of Being Earnest”:
Canon Chasuble maybe is the minor character of this play but his role is important. He belongs to the religious class and is supposed to be a serious person but he surprises us through her dialogues. Indeed, his dialogues directly come from the mouth of Oscar Wilde. Through this character, the writer has proved that only laypersons are not corrupt, the religious class also takes part in corruption. Both moral and physical corruption has been shown. Remarks of Canon Chasuble about Miss Prism are full of sexuality. He always praises her physical body. Somewhere he talks about her lips and somewhere about her hairs. For instance, in a dialogue, he says:
“Were I fortunate enough to be Miss Prism’s pupil, I would hang upon her lips.”
Although he, in the next dialogue, tries to cover his wish by declaring his statement as a metaphor yet the audience knows that he is morally and physical corrupt.
Apart from it, many other incidents are there in “Importance of Being Earnest” which demonstrate that the play was written for the purpose of social satire. He has presented the upper class and has shown their snobberies. In comical etiquettes, he has exposed the reality of so-called upper-class society. Perhaps, the purpose of “Importance of Being Earnest” was to uncover the stupidity of society. In order to achieve his goal, Oscar Wilde freely uses artistically techniques like epigrams, humor, and paradoxes. In an interesting manner, he, in hidden words, says those things which can never be said directly to the people. He has conveyed his message to the Victorian Society and showed them the mirror. The play is full of witty dialogues; every dialogue and each action reveal the hidden talent of Oscar Wilde. It also strengthens the grip of the poet on “use of satire”.