How, and with what effects, does Wilde satirise society and social convention in The Importance of Being Earnest?

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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There are many satirical targets in this witty and humorous play by Oscar Wilde.  Satire points out the flaws in human nature with the hope of instruction. Satire usually uses humorous ridicule to do this.  In this play, Wilde has many flaws to make fun of; here are a few:

  • the shallow nature of "true love" -- falling in love at first sight or even before first sight in the case of Cecily; the fact that Gwendolyn's primary concern in a husband is his first name.
  • the shallow nature of high society that is primarily concerned with name and reputation as evidenced by Lady Bracknell
  • the idleness of the upper classes as evidenced through Algernon and Jack to a certain extent.
  • foolishness -- Cecily's attitude about her education; Prism confusing her manuscript for a baby; Algernon and Jack with their 'Bunburying' 
  • the clergy -- the fact that Chausible gives the same sermon for every occasion

There is something to be "learned" in the satirical sense in nearly every scene in the play.  Algernon's commentary and Lady Bracknell in particular serve as excellent vehicles for Wilde's themes.  By the end of play the audience has had a wide exposure to several ideas worth thinking about in regards to what this play is saying about the shallowness and silliness of human nature.