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.