Victorian Satire Essay Research Paper

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Victorian Satire Essay, Research Paper “The Importance of Being Earnest,” a play by Oscar Wilde, gives an interesting look into each of the social classes existent in late Victorian England. As the play follows Ernest Worthing, the main character, through his dilemmas concerning his love for the wealthy Gwendolen, his lack of knowledge concerning his parentage and his overall lack of knowledge concerning his own identity, we see the many classes that he encounters throughout and are given a good interpretation of each. Each character is clearly included in Wilde’s masterpiece to represent a different class: both butlers, Lane and Merriman, although small characters, are seen to represent the realities of the lower class; characters Ernest and Algernon are those that

represent the middle class; and characters Lady Bracknell, Cecily and Gwendolen act as the highest class or the nobles. As we can see, Wilde recognizes and separates each class. Wilde satirizes each social class’ attitudes and realities by using his own satire and wit. Their dialogue or their actions help convey their stereotypical views on death, on marriage and on the other social classes as well. The play opens with a conversation between character Algernon and his butler, Lane. Algernon and Lane are seen to be discussing the institution of marriage: Lane:…in married households the champagne is rarely of first-rate brand. Algernon:Good Heavens! Is marriage as demoralizing as that? Lane: I believe it is a very pleasant state, sir. I have had very little experience of it

myself up to the present I have only been married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person. Algernon: I don’t know that I am much interested in your family life, Lane. Lane: No, sir; it is not very interesting subject. I never think of it myself. … Algernon: Lane’s views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Really if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? This dialogue goes on to characterize many different ideas that hold true in the classes of each of these characters and also goes on to satirize the stereotypical butler/master relationship. When one thinks of a butler in this time period, they think of a total and complete servant who is completely agreeable in all aspects. This scene

satirizes that stereotype by watching Lane’s obvious disagreement to much of Algernon’s statements but also his ability to hide these ideas. An example is Lane’s disagreement to Algernon’s “demoralization” statement and then his quick retraction to reclaim his loyalty. Also, in allowing this discussion between the two characters, Wilde is able to bring the two classes together, an idea that was unthinkable at the time. Although the separation between the two classes was evident, it wasn’t as thick as is usually seen. Also, Algernon closes this interaction by making a statement that is very bold coming from a higher class in response to that of a lower. Critic Kyle Hawkins agrees and further recognizes the Algernon’s bold statement, “as though the wealthy

observed the lower class members as role models.” This contradicts the general idea held by the higher class that is later embodied by Lady Bracknell. This incident between Lane and Algernon is soon followed by one similar discussion between Algernon and Ernest concerning Lady Bracknell’s beliefs concerning this holy institution of marriage. Ernest pronounces his love for Gwendolen to Algernon and Algernon introduces his individual views on the institution. Algernon states that to him marriage is more of a “business” and goes on to twist the traditional idea that “marriages are made in heaven” by stating here that “divorces are made in heaven.” This also is a use of satire to put a negative light on the view of the middle class on an institution that is recognized