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What does Wilde satirize in The Importance of Being Earnest?

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nahila | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted March 27, 2009 at 8:25 AM via web

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What does Wilde satirize in The Importance of Being Earnest?

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 31, 2009 at 12:28 AM (Answer #2)

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So many things are satirized in this play!

1. The snobbery, classism, and elitism of Victorian London is exemplified by Lady Bracknell

2. The fake imagery of grandiosity and wealth by living above their means and still hang out with the upper crust is represented with the dandy, Algernon.

3. Marriage, and the reasons to get married. Victorians might have at times married for love, but most marriages were also business transactions such as the one Lady Bracknell tried to conduct between Algy and Cecily- all for the sake of going up in social ranking

4. Snobbery is illustrated when Jack and Ms. Prism in separate ocasions describe how Jack was abandoned in a handbag at a train station. The play QUICKLY mentions that he was left in Victoria Station but in "THE BRIGHTON LINE"- that is, the line that goes to the Posh side- In other words, forget that he was abandoned. The imporance is that he was abandoned "in the Brighton Line"

5. Moralism is mocked with the reasons why women get attracted to men. As Victorians were moralists and always claimed to abide by religious motivations for everything, here are Gwendolyn and Cecily, falling in love with men just because their names are Earnest. 

6. Algy's eating habits are also a mockery of how the upper classes feasted on excess while the slum district of Victorian London in the East End was in one of the worst economical situations in history.

Trust me, there is a WHOLE lot more satire than our posts would fit!

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katemschultz | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted April 13, 2009 at 7:16 AM (Answer #1)

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Wilde targets several social institutions for his satire.  One of the most obvious in the play is Wilde's satrical view on marriage.  He does this by giving the girls (Gwendolen and Cecily) silly prerequisites for marriage: only the name Ernest.  Nothing else matters to them, other than the name Ernest.  Lady Bracknell, when inquiring as to Jack's suitability as a potential husband for Gwendolen, asks about his income, his politics and whether his owns land and house--not if he truly cares for her.  Wilde is satirizing marriage, showing these people thing it nothing more than a social adventure rather than a loving union.

Another element of society that Wilde satirizies is the upper class.  All of the characters (except for the butlers) would be considered upper class, and each shows a sense of frivolity toward life and serious issues.  Jack uses his brother's "death" as a way to excuse his Bunburrying; Alergnon seems to take nothing seriously, except eating.  Gwendolen wants only to look fashionable--and requires Jack to propose in "the proper way".  Lady Bracknell chases after her daughter to the country, all to prevent a marriage.  At a time when there were thousands of poor people suffering and barely making a living in England, these are trivial concerns.

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troutmiller | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted March 27, 2009 at 8:22 PM (Answer #1)

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The most obvious satire is about love and relationships.  Wilde uses the characters of Gwendolen and Cecily who only fall in love with men because of their names (Ernest).  Cecily has even created a relationship with a man she's never met.  She's been engaged, then it was broken off, and then she was engaged again--all without his even knowing about it.  On top of that, the Ernest she "fell in love with" never existed.  There is also the relationship between Dr. Chausable and the governess.  Such a relationship would never exist in the Victorian era, as he is a holy man who chose God over marriage.

The other side to his satire is making fun of Victorian society.  It seems to be the women who make all of the decisions in the play.  We never even meet Lord Bracknell.  He is constantly regarded as the woman of the house, as we would see it today.  Lady Bracknell won't even tell him about Gwendolen running out to the country to see Jack.  She thinks he can't handle it, so she tells him Gwendolen is at a lecture somewhere. 

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