Compare Louisa, in Hard Times, and Gwendolen, in The Importance of Being Earnest. In what ways do these characters either reinforce or subvert conventional gender roles, including attitudes towards marriage and romantic love?

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Louisa in Hard Times is the unhappy wife of an emotionally ascetic businessman. She is the product of an upbringing that relies on reason and social strictures as a means to efficient survival and living, and she brushes off emotion, imagination, and compassion as mere excesses. She is well provided...

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Louisa in Hard Times is the unhappy wife of an emotionally ascetic businessman. She is the product of an upbringing that relies on reason and social strictures as a means to efficient survival and living, and she brushes off emotion, imagination, and compassion as mere excesses. She is well provided for materially; however, the effects of shunning tenderness leave her destitute of inner fulfillment. She wishes to please her father and marries a prominent man whose stature will serve her well socially but, in doing so, she is plunged into a marriage of misery, breaking her spirit and leaving her longing for love. She plays right into her gender role and acts according to what is expected of her by society by repressing her inner desires. This leads to her eventual breakdown. Even greater than this is the social order in which the whole story is set, where the Industrial Revolution has made cogs out of all of them; they are unable to escape and are either broken or unchanged in the end.

In contrast, Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest is both fierce and frivolous. She is likewise well off and is portrayed as a city girl. She stands by her ideal, which is to marry a man whose name "inspires absolute confidence." She does not repress her desires; as a matter of fact, she acts on them rather obsessively.

Both Louisa and Gwendolen adhere to the rules of polite society in that they both need the approval of their parents to choose a man to marry. However, of the two, it is Gwendolen who clearly subverts the conventions of gender with the way she plainly and openly refuses to be involved with anyone who falls short of her very specific ideal:

Jack? . . . No, there is very little music in the name Jack, if any at all, indeed. It does not thrill. It produces absolutely no vibrations . . . I have known several Jacks, and they all, without exception, were more than usually plain. Besides, Jack is a notorious domesticity for John! And I pity any woman who is married to a man called John. She would probably never be allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment's solitude. The only really safe name is Ernest.

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