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The Play ", The Importance of Being Earnest," was composed by Oscar Wilde. The play, written in the late Victorian period of the 1900's, shows his view on marriage, women, social life and aristocracy. Most of the characters in the play are Victorian snobs who are mostly concerned with money, arrogant and improper. In the entire play, Wilde portrays women as arrogant, uneducated, and sheltered and others are seen as dominating figures over their husbands.
Two young aristocrats at the time of 1890 in England coincided with the same pseudonym, Ernesto, which did not cause too many problems until they fell in love with women with whom they used the same name. From this fact, the plot of the work leads the viewer (of the work, and reader) to stand in front of a comedy of erroneous identities. On the one hand is Jack Worthing who lives with a friend, Cecily Cardew, but has a double life, in front of her is himself but when he arrives in London, he adopts the role of a fictional brother named Ernesto, whose virtues were those desired by any woman. Also, his friend, Algy Moncrief, uses the strategy of changing his identity whenever he wants. Everything gets complicated when Jack, he asks for marriage to a wealthy young woman named Gwendolen, who is suggesting that he is called Ernest. To all this, on the other hand, his friend Algy visits the beautiful Cecily presenting himself as Jack's supposed brother, Ernesto. Having learned so many prodigies about him, he decides to marry. But when Jack returns from London, fantasising the news that his brother has ceased to exist to get rid of that character that now causes problems, things start to get tangled up.
In the play, the only woman who stands out is Lady Bracknell who is the Governess. Cecily and Gwendolen are shown to have no sense of identity. Wilde created the character of Lady Bracknell to show how the society was in the 1900s. Lady Bracknell has an earnest tone. She is commanding, arrogant, judgmental and makes pronouncements. Moreover, she is highly authoritative and is always serious all the time. Since she is the adult figure, she makes all the rules and enforces them with authority. Although she is the Governess, most of what she says or does are self-contradictory and ridiculous. This can easily be noted when she is amazed that Algernon and Cecily are getting married. She does not support mercenary marriages, and yet her marriage is a mercenary marriage. In page 604, she says, "When I married Lord Bracknell I had no fortune of any kind." The Governess is also portrayed as a greedy woman who is always thinking about money all the time. She thinks that once Algernon and Cecily get married, they will take some of her wealth. This can be noted on page 604, "A hundred and thirty thousand pounds! And in Funds! Miss Cardew seems to me a most attractive young lady, now that I look at her." Lady Bracknell is also not supportive of long engagements insisting that it enables people to learn about the characters of others before they finally get married. She says, "They give the people opportunity of finding out each other's character before marriage," (605).
Wilde also portrays Lady Bracknell in a manner that shows she makes people look something that they are not. To her, the only important thing is to look good and nothing else. This is what makes the other women in the play to decide to live uneducated and sheltered lives. Wilde portrays Cecily as a country girl whereas Gwendolen is portrayed as a city girl. However, the two live sheltered lives with little or no educated. Although the women are not stupid, they are not well informed in matters of the world and are unaware of many of the ways of the society. Gwendolen lives with her mother, the governess, who criticises the education system of England saying that education is meaningless. She says, "Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever" (577). This implies that she most likely did not send her daughter to school.
Wilde portrays women as naive, unintelligent, superficial, sheltered and incapable of doing most things by themselves. Most of the female characters in the play are obsessed with the name Ernest. Even though all the characters in the play, both male and female, are flawed, it is women who take on the role of the victims. Algernon and Jack, men in the play, keep deceiving the women. In this light, it remains to be seen that men remain in control whereas women have to be submissive to them. Men oppress women and when compared to men, they are seen as objects and should serve the man. Although Wilde portrays Gwendolyn as a character who is more put-together and composed, Cecily is presented as delusional and confused. This can be observed when Algernon confesses to her that he deeply loves her. When Algernon is proposing to her, she tells him that they have been engaged for three months. Algernon is surprised and questions her. She says that she created an entire story of their love even before he had met him. She says, "I dare say it was foolish of me, but I fell in love with you, Ernest. The next day I bought this little ring in your name. Here in this drawer are all the little presents I have given you. And this is the box in which I keep all your letters'" (Wile 59-60). Wilde portrays Wilde as unintelligent and foolish. She does not have self-esteem and creates events and scenarios that have never happened so that she can satisfy her desires. Cecily is also a fantasy girl. She has even received imaginary gifts from Algernon and had several fights with him before she has even met him.
Wilde also portrays women as objects of comfort and support for men. Cecily and Gwendolyn do everything they can to make Jack and Algernon happy and to fulfil their desires. The fact that Wilde designs the two women in such a way that they are always dreaming of a perfect man is supportive of the idea that women cannot be happy and fulfilled without being with a man. The play also portrays women as poor academic scholars. This can be seen through Miss Prisms constant reminders to Cecily to be dedicated and serious about her studies. She says, "Cecily! Surely such a utilitarian occupation as the watering of flowers is rather Moulton's duty than yours? Especially at a moment when intellectual pleasures await you. Your German grammar is on the table" (Wilde 32). Throughout the play, Wilde portrays women as almost illiterate unable to understand simple and common phrases. This can be noted when Miss Prism tells Cecily, "as a man sows so let him reap'" (Wilde 33). Cecily replies by saying, "But men don't sew, Miss Prism. And if they did, I don't see why they should be punished for it'" (Wilde 33). Wilde presents most women in the play as being below average, and most of their comments do not make sense at all. Different expectations were held different opportunities existed for men and women. Men would be allowed to receive an education at a school while girls would be restricted to homeschooling.
Women are also presented as gullible. This can be noted when Jack and Algernon decide to be honest with Cecily and Gwendolyn and inform that they lied to them so that they would look good to the women. This does not affect the women, and when Cecily is asked whether she believes Algernon, she says, "I don't. But that does not affect the wonderful beauty of his answer'" (Wilde 76). When Gwendolyn is asked, she states, "In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing'" (Wilde 76). It is important to note that Cecily and Gwendolyn decide to ignore every lie they had been told since what drove the men to lie to them was appropriate validation. This paints a very poor picture of women.
Throughout the play, Wilde shows that women are dependent on men irrespective of whether they are treated poorly or not. The need for a relationship and a man to fulfil their lives is greater than the need to be treated humanely, justly and lovingly. This portrays women as secondary to men and should do everything to please their men even if it means making them unhappy in the process. Gender stereotyping can also be observed when Gwendolyn and Cecily say that they cannot be married to a man who is not named Ernest. In Act 1, Gwendolyn tells Jack, "I have known several Jacks, and they all, without exception, were more than usually plain. The only safe name is Ernest'" (Wilde 20). In Act 111, when Cecily is talking to Algernon, she tells him, "You must not laugh at me, darling, but it had always been a girlish dream of mine to love someone whose name was Ernest. There is something in that name that seems to inspire absolute confidence. I pity any poor married woman whose husband is not called Ernest'" (Wilde 61). Oscar portrays these women as naive and that the name is the optimal name for a husband. The two women like the name because of the manner in which the society has interpreted in but not because they particularly enjoy it.
The men in the play also demean women. This can be noted in the dialogue between Jack and Algernon when they are discussing how they will manipulate their interests. Jack says "When a man does exactly what a woman expects him to do, she doesn't think much of him. One should always do what a woman doesn't expect, just as one should always say what she doesn't understand" (Wilde 73). This shows the contempt that Jack and Algernon had for women and how little they valued them. It also shows Wilde's condescending and presumptuous attitude towards women.
Wilde presents women in the play as being secondary to men. It poorly portrays women, portraying them as irrational, uneducated, and sheltered and having low esteem. The play also shows that women need men to be fulfilled and irrespective of the way they are treated by men, they should be submissive and respectful to men. Women are seen as weak and passive, and they are taught to be obedient and keep their opinions to themselves in all matters.
Appell, Felicia. "Victorian Ideals: The Influence of Society's Ideals on Victorian Relationships." Victorian Ideals. McKendree University, n.d. Web. 24 July 2014.
Wilde, Oscar. "The Importance of Being Earnest." The Importance of Being Earnest & Four Other Plays. Ed. Krauss Kenneth. New York: Fine Creative Media, 2003. 3-93. Print. Barnes & Noble Classics.
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