Absurdity and Satire in The Importance of Being Earnest

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Absurdity and Satire in The Importance of Being Earnest

In Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, much is made of societal expectations, protocols, as well as the inversions of these expectations. A character, Jack Worthing, adopts an alter ego when going into town to avoid keeping up with the serious and morally upright behaviour that is expected of him as guardian to his eighteen-year-old ward, Cecily. Another character, Algernon Moncrieff, makes up an invalid friend Bunbury whose grave health conditions provide him with the excuse to escape to the country as and when he pleases. Both Jack and Algernon are admired by two young ladies who erroneously believe the men's names to be Ernest, and who adore the men for this very reason. In relating the story of mix-ups and mistaken identities, the ideals and manners of the Victorian society are satirized in a comedy where the characters "treat all the trivial things of life seriously and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality" (Wilde back cover), in the words of the author himself.

Act 1 JACK. [Nervously.] Miss Fairfax, ever since I met you I have admired you more than any girl . . . I have ever met since . . . I met you.

GWENDOLEN. Yes, I am quite well aware of the fact. And I often wish that in public, at any rate, you had been more demonstrative. For me you have always had an irresistible fascination. Even before I met you I was far from indifferent to you. [JACK looks at her in amazement.] We live, as I hope you know, Mr Worthing, in an age of ideals. The fact is constantly mentioned in the more expensive monthly magazines, and has reached the provincial pulpits, I am told; and my ideal has always been to love some one of the nam...

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... play is "to ridicule the vicious and the foolish" and "to expose the reigning Follies in such a manner, that men shall laugh themselves out of them before they feel they are touch'd" (qtd Rose 81). Indeed, it is precisely through the use of such absurdity that The Importance of Being Earnest successfully pokes fun at the audience without them getting offended, since the sting of the criticism is cushioned by the detachment that the viewers feel from such ludicrousness in the play.

Works Cited

Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Montgomery, Martin et. al. "Irony." Ways of Reading. Advanced Reading Skills for Students of English Literature. London: Routledge, 2000.

Rose, Margaret. Parody: Ancient, Modern, and Post-Modern. Cambridge: CUP, 1993.

Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. London: Penguin, 1994.
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