Satire is a literary term that refers to a work that is used to mock or tease an institution or group of people in order to be satirical. This element in writing can be used by an author to persuade or persuade an audience to believe in a certain philosophy. Irony, vividness, obscenity, and paradox are some of the features of humor. Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” is a satirical play that mocks class, marriage, and gender. This element of writing will catch the interest of audiences who want to buy tickets. Some of the reactions that he may evoke from the audience include anger, shock or happiness. Wilde also ridicules some of the mindsets that were rigid during the Victorian age and cultural norms.
Reasons for satirizing viewers purchasing tickets
Wilde satirizes the institution of marriage by making it appear that it is not based on love but greed. In his play, he focuses on couples such as Jack and Gwendolen and Algernon and Cecily with the wives yearning to have a husband called “Ernest.” The name is a prerequisite to marriages for the young girls who nothing else matters to them than Ernest. He claims that in as much as Victorians might have married for love, most marriages were a form of business transactions. Ladies in the community only get into a marital union with those men that are recognizable and have a “name” among other things. A good example of such a union is one between Jack and Gwendolen and Algernon and Cecily that was pushed by Lady Bracknell to climb the social ranking. In the quest for inquiring about Jack’s suitability as a potential husband for Gwendolen, she focuses on his income, political life and other assets that he owns. Women are driven by materialistic desires and the quest for leading certain lifestyles and not emotional attachment with those that they want to have a marital union with (Wilde Web). Wilde, by satirizing the institution of marriage, makes the audience understand that it was rarely founded on love but social adventures and personal interests. Moreover, he focuses on capturing the emotions of the viewers, who will mostly be saddened by discrimination that some of the men had to face as a result of their status in the community.
Another element of the society that is widely satirized by Wilde in his play is the upper class. Most of the characters aim at climbing the social ranks irrespective of the means that they embrace. According to him, the part of the street one’s life affects his or her personality and fashion. From a bigger picture, the statement is satirical and aims at ridiculing the high-class persons in the society on their shallow thinking about life. Lady Bracknell represents the women of the Upper Victorian class in the society, and she strongly believes that those that are categorized as high class are the holders of power. She has little opinion of those individuals that have little money and is the one to dictate who to marry (Wilde 533). She wants Gwendolen to marry a man with means and not one that will fail to meet her financial needs. Gwendolen wants to look fashionable and asks Jack to propose to her properly. Wilde uses Bracknell in the play as an aristocrat that will go at anything but bend rules that favor the upper-class members of the society (Bloom 76). She focuses on Jack’s wealth by questioning his income, property and investment but pays little attention to the moral values. In this play, Wilde uses satire to give the viewers a wide exposure to the Victorian social class discrimination. According to these persons, only the upper-class individuals in the society have a say and are the key decision makers. Those in the societies that are categorized as low class and lack the means are openly discriminated against and lack the opportunities that are enjoyed by the rich.
Wilde uses satire to mock lack of moral values in the society that was evident during the Victorian Age. The Victorians always considered themselves as moralists and always abided by the religious motivations. However, their everyday practices are hardly a reflection of their beliefs in values and morality. The inconsistencies are obvious in the aspects of love and relationships. According to Wilde, women are not driven into marriages as a result of love but their desire for materialistic items and wealth (Wilde 537). Apparently, this implies that those men from poor background may find it hard to find a woman to settle with due to their failures in satisfying their needs. The greed for climbing high social ranks and amassing wealth is another indication of erosion values in the community. Lady Bracknell seeks a husband for her daughter, and one of the qualifications is a “name” and riches. The statement shows that the people in the community were primarily inclined towards resources and recognition instead of coming up with ideals and morals. Married is viewed as an economic factor and not a platform for the cultivation of friendship but where individuals conserve wealth. In as much as Gwendolen was married to Jack, it was money that kept them together and not their ideals and principles. The reason for satirizing the community’s morality is to provide the audience a clear picture of the rot in the Victorian age and high levels of greed. With that in mind, the audience will have a comprehension of the flow of events.
Wilde satirizes how some of the persons live above their means and at the same time the clear division between the upper class and the people living in the Jack and Gwendolen and Algernon and Cecily. Most people in the community will do anything to climb the social ranks to the upper crust. One of the factors that drive women into marriages is their desire to possess and conserve wealth and not the need to have a family. According to Bracknell, the poor have no say and a place in the lives of the reach. Only those people from the upper-class category in the community are allowed to wield power. The slum district in Victoria London is hit with worst economic conditions in the British history. However, none of the rich people with “names” are willing to visit the poor societies and offer them the necessary support (Bloom 54). Algy’s eating habits as shown in the play are used as a mockery of how those people from the upper classes feast on excess while those in the slums continue living in deplorable conditions. The reason why Wilde satirizes the evident divisions between the upper class and the lower class in the society is to impose humor on the audience and help them relate to some of the social challenges that occur in the communities as a result of the widening gap between the rich and the poor.
Reactions that Wilde is aiming to evoke from the audience
Satirizing of marriages is one of those aspects that are expected to elicit various reactions from the audience. A section of the viewers will find it hypocritical for a woman to enter into a union with a man with the aim of amassing wealth that they may never have a chance to own. According to the play, women from the Victorian community were materialistic and preferred getting married to men that had the name “Ernest,” a symbol of wealth. Some of the people attending the play, other than being perplexed with the greediness depicted by ladies such as Bracknell and her daughter Gwendolen, they will also be angered by their act of despising those from the underprivileged backgrounds (Wilde Web). After eliciting such reactions, the audiences’ attention and concentration will increase significantly, and they will want to get more of the play.
Wilde expects to evoke light moments among the audience, especially in those scenes that are funny. The fake imagery of grandiosity and living beyond ones means all with the aim of fitting into the upper-class society will leave the viewers in a state of joy, especially when they connect what it takes for some of the people to gain recognition. It is funny how Lady Bracknell goes to the extent of inquiring about Jack’s wealth and income before allowing her a daughter to have her marriage blessings (Wilde Web). She advises Jack to try and acquire some relations with those families that are recognized; all this is aimed at satisfying her social desires.
The “Importance of Being Earnest” highlights on the rich persons in the society and the aristocrats that places concern on the major matters surrounding marriage. By satirizing various institutions, culture, and social class, Wilde aims at eliciting various reactions from the audience and at the same time ensuring that its humor captures their attention. Moreover, the play is a reflection of some of the happenings in the modern day societies including divisions between the rich and poor and the quest for individuals to climb social ranks. Through exaggerations and farce, Wilde reveals some of the foolish things that those in the upper class do to gain recognition.
Bloom, Harold. Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest. New York: Chelsea, 2013. Print.
Wilde, Oscar, “The Importance of Being Earnest.” The Harbrace Anthology of Literature. Eds. Jon C.Stott, Raymond E. Jones, and Rick Bowers. 4th ed. Toronto, ON: Nelson, 2006. 527- 575. Print.
Wilde, Oscar. “Sparknotes: The Importance Of Being Earnest: Themes, Motifs, And Symbols.” Sparknotes.com. N.p., 2018. Web. 18 Jan. 2018.
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance Of Being Earnest–A Trivial Comedy For Serious People. 2014. Print.