What social criticism appears in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest?
Historical context is an important piece of the puzzle when deciphering the social criticism of Wilde's play. The play premiered in 1895, at the turn of the nineteenth century. This was a time when the established Victorian values of English society were scrutinized by younger, bolder generations. The Victorian outlook is characterized by a sense of dignity and restraint, coupled with a rigid view of morality and social etiquette. Wilde's play posits that society's focus on social conventions and possessing a sense of poise is patently ridiculous. People who claim to be moral through "proper" behavior are in fact shallow and hypocritical. The play makes this observation time and again through satire, wordplay, and other forms of humor.
For example, early in the play, Algernon remarks that "I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them.” This is a rather pithy observation criticizing the social emphasis on table manners and the importance of correct etiquette....
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