Algernon And Food In Oscar Wilde's Symbolism

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In the play, Wilde uses Algernon’s relationship with food to criticize the repression of desires during the Victorian era. Food also played a large role in Victorian society as a symbol of status and repression of urges. Upper-class Victorians were careful not to eat too much to show their self-restraint (“Victorian”). Similarly, eating plays a large role in the book and could symbolize “appetites and emotions that it is not respectable or polite to air openly” (Laws). Algernon’s chief vice appears in his overindulgence in food. Algernon’s preoccupation with food appears many times in the play and he often appears to be “[e]ating as usual,” according to Jack (1.296). At the beginning of the play, Algernon orders cucumber sandwiches for Lady…show more content…
This time period was characterized by social and political changes as England was experience industrialization, but by intellectual discoveries (Joshi). Charles Darwin’s Evolution of species, Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis, and Karl Marx’s Communism were all published during this time period, which created tensions in Victorian beliefs. These ideas challenged “all the pre-existing Victorian values” about “creationism, ego-centrism, and socio-political hierarchy” (Joshi). With the rise of steam-engines, manufacturing, and laissez-faire economics came an influx of literature with an overarching theme of change, or upheaval (“Victorian Literature”). Many writers believed the “fundamental changes taking place in the world meant progress” and were a source of hope and optimism. Others chose to directly address the pressing social problems of the day with the intent to change it (“Victorian Literature”). In the play, Algernon mocks the volume of ideas in literature and the quality of them in phrases such as, “Oh! it is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn 't. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn 't read” (Wilde 1.291). He also expresses his doubt of the validity of the claims in, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility! (1.294). The press comes under his criticism when he says, “Literary criticism is not your forte, my dear fellow. Don 't try it. You should leave that to people who haven 't been at a University. They do it so well in the daily papers” (1.294). Algernon even uses the rapid scientific developments to support his claim for his own benefit. When Jack says, “you said yourself that a severe chill was not hereditary,” Algernon sarcastically responds, “it usen 't to be, I know--but I daresay it

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