Good Example Of Satirizing The Victorians Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Importance, Men, Women, Ethics, Morality, Desire, Love, Independence

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2020/11/25

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest serves as an amusing satire of Victorian ideals and values. Wilde’s characters are hypocritical, snooty, and judgmental, allowing him to effectively mock their supposed proper and moral attitudes. From the outset, the author takes shots at the Victorian idea of what’s proper when Jack tells Algernon that it is “a very ungentlemanly thing” to read the cigar case he left at his home (Wilde, 2013). Wilde smartly uses Algernon’s reply to show the absurdity of the statement and poke fun: “More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read” (2013). The entire play is riddled with such effective, funny, and mocking dialogue. Using discourse between the characters, Wilde focuses on the importance of appearances. The play uses the concept that it’s important to keep up the appearance that a person has more than he or she does to satirize the Victorian emphasis on proper and moral behavior.
The title of the play, The Importance of Being Earnest, is vital to the idea of keeping up appearances. The name Ernest is a play on the word “earnest,” meaning serious or sincere. Wilde cleverly has the men use the name Ernest and uses the women to suggest that only “earnest” men are worthy in order to show how constrained the moral code was for Victorians. The women in the play have a very defined idea of the proper man, and the men will do whatever it takes to be that man:
We live, as I hope you know, Mr. Worthing, in an age of ideals.  The fact is constantly mentioned in the more expensive monthly magazines, and has reached the provincial pulpits, I am told; and my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest.  There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence.  The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you. (Wilde, 2013)
The name Ernest alone makes Gwendolyn desire to marry Jack, making her appear to have married a serious man and, to her, the ideal man. Jack, however, has misled her, allowing Wilde to show how trying so hard to appear proper and moral really does nothing but keep up appearances. In other words, Wilde was showing how the Victorian emphasis on being moral and proper was for appearances and may be more of an act than reality. In other words, Wilde is pointing on the ridiculousness of the controlled lives of the Victorians and that they don’t really know one another but only what they want others to see.
Cecily’s reaction to Algernon serves as an even greater mocking of Victorian ideals. Cecily tells Algernon that she had been in love with him since her Uncle Jack mentioned him, engaged to him before they’d even met, got herself a ring from him, and wrote letters to herself from him. She reveals that she’d always dreamed of loving someone named Ernest. This shows how Victorians loved the idea of being moral and proper. Cecily was in love with the concept of Ernest, not a real man. She and Gwendolen were even impressed that the two men were going to be baptized to be with them: “Where questions of self-sacrifice are concerned, men are infinitely beyond us” (Wilde, 2013). Through Cecily’s silly admission, Wilde points out how preposterous it is to base decisions, feelings, and opinions on something so simple because the women actually know nothing about the men they seek to marry.
When Jack seeks to Marry Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell’s reaction highlights the silly Victorian belief in the importance of lineage. Lady Bracknell seems content with Jack’s wealth, age, profession, housing, and land ownership – all things that make him appear well off—however, when she finds out that he doesn’t know his parents, she dismisses him because as far as she’s concerned, he might as well have been born from a handbag: “You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter—a girl brought up with the utmost care—to marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel?“ (Wilde, 2013). Since Jack admits that he was found in a bag at the train station, Lady Bracknell immediately denies his request to marry Gwendolen. It would be improper for her daughter to marry someone without proper lineage. It would not keep up appearances. By using a ridiculous story of Jack being mistaken for a book, Wilde satirizes the Victorian emphasis on bloodlines and lineage.
The Importance of Being Earnest says it all in the title and in the final line of the play: “I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest” (Wilde, 2013). Oscar Wilde uses satire to show to what silly lengths the Victorians would go to appear as moral and proper. He also uses the outrageous dialogue and actions of the characters to comment on how placing such high importance on appearances simply covers up the reality of who people are and keeps people from really knowing one another. It’s all about ideals, and being earnest is the ideal; however, basing relationships or opinions on appearances and ideals is ridiculous. When speaking of Algernon, Cecily says it best: “I am so afraid he will look just like every one else” (Wilde, 2013). In other words, appearances can be deceiving and being earnest is not very important at all.
In Jane Eyre, Jane is revolutionary compared to the ideals manifested in The Importance of Being Earnest through her feminist desires. Jane expresses the desire for independence, knowledge, and equality by refusing to marry Edward Rochester until they become equals. While the circumstances regarding her financial independence are not due to her own making, Jane is able to become financially independent due to her inheritance, thereby proving herself equal to Rochester. It isn’t ideal for a true feminist, but for Jane it serves its purpose. In a time where equality would otherwise be difficult to come by, Jane simply takes advantage of her circumstances.
Jane won’t marry Rochester until she proves her own independence and shows she does not have to rely on a man. Unlike Gwendolen and Cecily, Jane desires love and equality; she is not happy to simply settle, which is what would have been expected from her during this era. While desiring equality and independence is not uncommon during modern times, women in the Victorian era were seen as inferior in a vastly patriarchal society. Jane’s actions and desires are expressly feminist in a time that expected women to bow down to men. While The Importance of Being Earnest pokes fun at Victorian ideals, Jane Eyre stands on the side of feminism by refusing to submit to those same ideals.


Jane Eyre [Motion picture on DVD]. (1999). United States: A & E Home Video.
Wilde, O. (2013). The importance of being earnest. In S. Greenblatt, C. T. Christ, A. David, B. K. Lewalski, L. Lipking, G. M. Logan . . . M. H. Abrams (Eds.), The norton anthology of English literature (9th ed.). New York, NY: Norton.

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