To what extent can Oscar Wilde's works can be read as effective social criticism?
Oscar Wilde, the genius of English drama, always had a purpose behind his writings. As a man who claimed to agree with the basic principles of socialism, he was attentive as to how he would present to his audience the unfair situations going on in Victorian England. The division of class, the extreme importance placed on rank, peerage, and other silly things and the abuse encountered by the artistic and lower classes at the hands of the aristocrats.
Each movement, mannerism, absurd commentary and lack of genius are direct satire from Wilde to the aristocrats. Slings and arrows thrown directly at their self-absorption, at the fake nature of their so-called social care programs, and their over-accentuated manners of speech, and the ways in which they basically ignore what is really important for the sake of appearances.
Therefore, one must read Wilde EXPECTING to see this form of social criticism between the lines and sayings that may suspect to be "trivial". Nothing is trivial in Wildean works. Everything as a place, and a criticism, to go with it.
Oscar Wilde, not unlike Charles Dickens, lampoons a frivolous aristocracy in his The Importance of Being Ernest. In Act I, for instance, Lady Bracknell questions Jack not on what he has said, but on the possible impact of his words to his reputation. Clearly, appearances are of more importance to this social class than the substance of what is done.