Sunday, November 2, 2008
The Importance of Being Earnest
"The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde is a comical farce in which the characters from the Victorian era find themselves in various situations relating to marriage. However, the characters focus on various trivial details instead of the important things in life, making for a very humorous and at times, predictable, play.
A perfect character to analyze is Lady Bracknell. Lady Bracknell is Algernon's aunt and is the prime example of the stupidity of the prim and properity of the Victorian era. Bracknell stands as the personification of the etiquette of Victorian society, and by making a fool of herself on numerous occasions, continues to be a focal point in Wilde's berating of Victorian society. Throughout the farce, it is clear that Bracknell is solely focused on appearances and decorum. Everything she does or feels has no true meaing in the work and all she strives towards is upholding her appearance as a lady of the upmost respectability and properity. However, she does not uphold her appearance by focusing on important matters that truly affect her life and the society as a whole. No, instead she focuses on trivial details that have no effect on the story itself. For example, when "interviewing" Jack to see if he would be a worthy suitor for Gwendolen, she inquires about his parents. When she learns he has none, instead of saying, "I'm sorry that's really a shame" she says, "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness" (14). Is she serious? She speaks in the manner that it is Jack's fault that he has no parents, when in reality it is the complete opposite. This statement is just one of Lady Bracknell's many aphorisms throughout the book. While an aphorism is a concise statement of principle or precept that usually can be assumed as true, Lady Bracknell's aphorisms are completely backwards. She feels that it is good that in England education produces on effect whatsoever and that while Algernon has nothing, he looks everything and that is all that matters. Do any of these make sense? How can she say that education produces on effect when England is home to one of the world's best universities, Oxford. When she implies that having an appearance is all that matters with Algernon, she is used to further make fun of the superficial nature of Victorian society and throughout the farce, Wilde uses Bracknell to make social commentary on the stupidity of society.
One of the most humorous lines in the play comes when Cecily and Gwendolen are enjoying an afternoon tea with each other. Both are arguing in oh so proper a manner about the serious situation of both being engaged to the same man, but in reality on being engaged to the same man. When offered tea and cake, Gwendolen wants no sugar and bread and butter. However, Cecily ignores her and gives the opposite, much to the anger of Gwendolen. "You have filled my tea with lumps of sugar , and though I asked most distinctly for bread and butter, you have given me cake. I am known for the gentleness of my disposition, and the extraordinary sweetness of my nature, but I warn you, Miss Cardew, you may go too far" (38). Come on. These to ladies are so focused on decorum and their appearance they cannot even have a real argument. In an argument over something of this importance, one would expected there would be yelling, name calling, and maybe even some punches thrown. Do any of these take place in this scene? No, instead Cecily gets at Gwendolen by giving her sugar when she asked for none and cake instead of bread and butter. Gwendolen's anger over such a trivial detail just go to compound the stupidity of Victorian society and the importance it placed on appearance and silly, trivial details.
In my opinion, Oscar Wilde's farce is a very enjoyable play to read. What truly makes the play fun is the fact that there is little importance throughout the entire play. It is ridiculous how every, little thing is focused on maintaining the appearance of properity and formality. The characters produce various enjoyable situations where one can laugh at the stupidity of the characters and the ridiculous nature of their conversations when things of great importance are going on. They talk about the cucumber sandwiches, the proper way to eat muffins, and the how it is improper to have been found in a handbag. It is obvious throughout that Wilde is making fun of Victorian society and the farce becomes more and more enjoyable as the reader follows the predictable story that these characters place themselves in. If I had to recommend this play, I would recommend it to anyone who would like a good laugh.