How are the specific concepts of intelligence and social status satarized in the play, The Importance of Being Earnest?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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This is a great question because the concepts of intelligence and social status are some of the major focal points of mockery which Oscar Wilde loves to treat most. 

It is documented in several sources that Wilde's biggest argument is that the Puritan middle-class and upper-class Victorians are all hypocritical in their claim that they are a church-going and virtuous society. This is because, as they claim these virtuous, they also express a tendecy to be classicist, homophobic, judgemental, and completely rancorous with anyone who would not adopt a prudish and snobbish social code.

For this reason, Wilde ensures that all upper-class people in his plays, especially those who seem snobbier than others, are viewed as complete ignorants. This is the case of Lady Bracknell and her ridiculous interview with Jack Worthing when he declares his interest in marrying her daughter, Gwendolen

During this interview in Act I, this very ironic conversation takes place between Lady Bracknell and Jack Worthing

I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?
JACK:[After some hesitation.]I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.
I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound.

In this manner, Wilde has the upper hand at describing how the aristocrats, with their virtuous and pompous behaviors, are doing nothing but hiding the fact that they are social parasites and under-educated despite of their automatic entrance to good universities in England. To this latter part, Wilde adds a stronger punch:

Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square. What is your income?

Therefore, we see that the concept that Wilde holds as fact is that there is no such thing as an intelligent aristocrat or upper-classman in England. That they are impaired by their vicious discrimination and their hypocritical values. More than just a satire, this is also a view that Wilde holds dear to his heart and repeatedly judges in many of his essays, as well as in other characters to whom he gives the same treatment. In all, it is a way for him to vent the pent up frustrations of an author that is consistently limited to express his genius by a much ignorant society .


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