Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, a comedy of manners, satirizes the hypocrisy and the baseness in the high-bred characters who are so class-conscious. This satire is most apparent in Tony Lumpkin, the son of Mrs. Hardcastle from her previous marriage, whose base nature is exemplified in the tavern scene. It is also rather apparent in the vain and materialistic character of Mrs. Hardcastle.
Goldsmith clearly employs the character of Charles Marlow, the son of an old friend of Mr. Hardcastle, to satirize the English preoccupation and emphasis on class distinctions. The pretensions of his class prevent Charles from enjoyment in the company of polite society, while he is able to enjoy himself whenever he is with barmaids. This is clearly exemplified in his awkwardness with Kate when he meets her in her finery. Then he can only tell her,
"I have lived, indeed, in the world, madam; but I have kept little company. I have been but an observer upon life, madam, while others were enjoying it." (Act II)
But, when he mistakes Kate for a servant girl, he easily engages in lively conversation with her, and she, in turn, is delighted with his natural and open side.
In satire, irony is also employed, and Goldsmith employs this literary tool best with the character of Mrs. Hardcastle. For instance, in her discussion with Hastings about the high society of London, Mrs. Hardcastle intends to demonstrate her knowledge and sophistication. However, her confusion in Act II between fashionable and unfashionable areas—she mentions a friend on Crooked Lane, which was not far from the slaughter yards—demonstrates her actual ignorance of high society, a condition that makes her comments ironic. More irony occurs in Act II with the perception that Marlow and Hastings have of Mr. Hardcastle as, believing that he is merely the landlord of an inn, they assume that he cannot possibly be a gentleman (when, of course, he is). Because of their misconceptions about Mr. Hardcastle they are blinded in their judgment of him.
A satire is a work of literature where irony and exaggeration are used in order to highlight a particular failing or social custom that is questionable. In this play, Goldsmith is clearly holding up the way that society viewed women not as independent humans in their own right but only in terms of what they could bring to the state of marriage. In Goldsmith's day, marriage was seen not as a matter of emotions but a financial matter where men would hope for economic gain through their wife. This is satirised in the way that Mrs Hardcastle tries to get Constance to marry her son, Tony, not because of Constance's character or beauty, but because of the jewels she will inherit and which she has charge of until Constance comes of age. Note how this is commented on in Act I scene 1 by Kate to Constance:
A fortune like yours is no small temptation. Besides, as she has the sole management of it, I'm not surprised to see her unwilling to let it go out of the family.
This play therefore is a satire in the way that Goldsmith highlights the way in which marriages were made not based on emotions or feelings, but on economic motives alone. Mrs Hardcastle's attempts to marry her son off to Constance, even though neither can stand the other, is a hilarious and exaggarated example of this failing in society.