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Oscar Wilde, author, and play-writer of The Importance of Being Earnest; a story of character Jack and Algernon that live a double life to live to standards while also trying to enjoy the free life away from the subjective culture. While trying to live these double lives they both fall into trouble with the women they love. The play taunts the life of the people during the Victorian era. Wilde jabs at the culture and practices, ideals, gender roles, marriage, and class division of the Victorian age.
One of the many subjects that Oscar Wilde mocks is the culture and practices during the Victorian Period. The culture during the time was known to be very subjective. To live a great life, you had to be seen as a high-status person by the public eye. The people would do anything to live this high life, this includes lying. During Act 1, the audience sees an example of Algernon trying to keep a high status within the face of Lady Bracknell. Early into Act 1, the audience is informed that Algernon eats the cucumber sandwiches that were prepared for Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen. Instead of owning up to it he lies and blames Lane, his butler “Good heavens! Lane! Why are there no cucumber sandwiches?…”… “There were no cucumbers in the market this morning, sir. I went down twice.” Victorians would always want to be seen as someone of opulence. No Victorian would ever show their deepest desires to anyone but themselves. This would lead to many living a double life. During Act 1 the audience gains the knowledge of the double life that Jack Earnest lives within the conversation he has with Algernon, “What on earth do you do there?”…”When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people. It is Excessively boring” . This right here is an example of bunbering. Bunbering is to mislead another with acts of good with maleficent intentions. Tim Stanley states “Sex did not vanish in Victorian England but it was certainly idealized and privatized in a novel manner”.This ties in with how Victorians hide their inner desires and true intentions behind closed doors to keep a posh appearance.
The practices were mostly similar for both genders, but there were some differences with the execution of actions. Gender roles play a huge part in the Victorian Period. Male and Female could live the same life but had to go through different paths to get there. During the time, Women are considered to be powerless, in a way they were marionettes and the men their puppet master. A toy only to be controlled. For women to live a high opulent life with a good man, they would have to be sold like livestock with monetary compensation for being a “burden” to the male party. Women were to live a quiet life and to do as told by their husbands. In the play, Wilde switches the ones with power to the characters Gwendolen and Cecily when they found about the lies that were told by Algernon and Jack. “Do you think we should forgive them?”… “Yes. I mean no.” while the men are begging for forgiveness the women are denying them, making the men feel powerless. In addition to Gwendolen and Cecily, another woman with power in the play is Lady Bracknell. “… 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 cloakroom, and form an alliance with a parcel?”This quote here shows how Lady Bracknell controls who marries her daughter when usually the male party controls all over the family.
The Victorian ideals were to be as clean and perfect as a sleet of marble. The Aristocrat Victorians believed that they had to live an almost identical if not exact life like the queen herself. In the Victorian world, you had to have fortunes to have a name for yourself. If you didn’t come from an opulent family or didn’t gain new money then you were nothing more than dust in the Aristocratic world. Jack was a special case. Jack did not know if he came from a family of old money. This restricted him from being able to marry the love of his life, Gwendolen. “I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible…” this quote is from Lady Bracknell, she informs Jack to get a name for himself before being able to do anything in his life within the Aristocrats especially to try and marry her daughter. Oscar Wilde ridicules the fact that one has to be posh to live a life in the Victorian era.
Marriage is one thing that is very questionable if compared to today’s time. Unlike today marriage during the Victorian era was not done because of love between both parties. Instead, it was done as a trust pact or an alliance with other families. Marriages were done for a family to gain more money or more power. The Aristocrats would always marry within their class and would never marry into the lower class. One had to be popular with the people to have a good chance at marriage. Wilde makes an ironic relationship with Jack and Gwendolen. While both want to marry for true love Lady Brecknell will not have it. She questions Jack to make sure he comes from an opulent family. Once she found out he came from no known family at the point of the play she declines his proposal to Gwendolen, “… would dream of allowing our only daughter- a girl brought up with the utmost care- to mary into a cloakroom…”. Since marriage was never done for love many believed that one should either know everything of marriage or know nothing at all. “… I have always been of the opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or know nothing. Which do you know?… I know nothing… I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance.”Lady Bracknell is saying that to make a marriage last the longest is to stay ignorant and to barely get to know the other spouse. To only know oneself and one’s worth.
In addition, Oscar Wilde mocks at the class division between the population. There were 2 major classes; The Aristocrats and the Lower Class or how the public saw it as Heaven and Hell. Ironically enough Wilde represents both parties as a living hell in different manners. The Aristocrats live through hell due to not being able to be their true selves. Having to constrain yourself to live the life that someone else thinks you should live can make one go insane. They can begin to suffer a personality issue and go through mental hell. A hell within their person. The lower class would live through a physical hell. The lower class would live a horrendous life, They would struggle to stay alive, trying to feed themselves, cure sickness, and seek shelter with so little that the Lower Class had. There is a 3rd party represented within the play, the Middle Class. This class lives a higher life than the Lower Class but does not have nearly as enough power as The Aristocrats. An example we see of this is with Lane. Lane is a Middle-Class butler for the Aristocrat Algernon. When Algernon needed to lie about the cucumber sandwiches to keep a high profile, Algernon uses Lane as a reason to blame for not having any cucumber sandwiches, “… Good heavens! Lane! Why are there no cucumber sandwiches? I ordered them specially… There were no cucumbers in the market this morning, sir. I went down twice.”Lane is not able to have a say in the matter because he can’t lose the job that makes him a living.
Oscar Wilde, author, and playwriter makes satire of the Victorian era. Many of the topics Wilde mocks are culture, ideals, gender roles, marriage, and class division with his play The Importance of Being Earnest. Many in the Victorian era try to live a posh life in the public eye but try to live the way they truly are when no one else is looking. Compared to today the Victorians care about what others think and it was to be their ultimate downfall.