Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest may be treated as a social document. Discuss.

Expert Answers
M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The play The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde may be treated as a social document under the same scope of many other comedies of manners of its generation.

In other words, the widespread publication of comedies of manners in the 19th century reflects a meta-cognitive preoccupation with the behaviors of people of that time, under specific circumstances. The treatment that the artists give these social dynamics, and the fact that such dynamics are being brought forward to the public, are the reason which make these literary works worthy of being studied as social documents.

Oscar Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest, as well as many other works, with the purpose of entertaining. Cunning and brilliant as he was, he infused a common practice among writers of the fin de siecle (the late 1800's) of satirizing the silly behaviors of the upper classes, and the trivialities of life.

This being said, Wilde took this chance to expose the typical issues rising from the upper and middle classes, and blatantly laughed about them.

Therefore, it is certainly possible to treat the play as a social document because it shows real social situations taking place at the time of publication. They include:

  • The frivolity of the upper classes (aristocrats) for the preservation of their rank - Lady Bracknell
  • The inability of some upper class men to produce an income comparable to that of the rising middle classes -Algernon
  • The greed of the "up and coming Victorian" young generation- Jack and Algernon; Gwendolen and Cecily.
  • The exaggeration of trivial situations - Cecily, Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell.
  • The hypocrisy of society, as a whole- Algernon (pretending to be helping Bunbury), Jack (pretending to be helping Ernest), Lady Bracknell (using her social groups to find a husband for Gwendolen)

Conclusively, The Importance of Being Earnest may certainly be treated as a social document. One which, in tandem with similar works of its generation, aimed to explore the behaviors and idiosyncrasies of the times, and mocked them to demonstrate the trivial and hypocritical origin of their nature.

Read the study guide:
The Importance of Being Earnest

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question