The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedy of manners, whereby Oscar Wilde uses satire to ridicule marriage, love and the mentality of the Victorian aristocratic society. It can also be referred to as a satiric comedy. What is a satire and what is Oscar Wilde trying to emphasize by employing it in his play? A satiric comedy ridicules political policies or attacks deviations from social order by making ridiculous, the violators of its standards of morals or manners. Usually, a satiric piece doesn't serve only as a form of criticism, but to correct flaws in the characters or to somehow make them better in the end.
The pun on the word "Earnest" suggests two things; it stands for the name but also refers to honesty and integrity. It is also known as a `one joke' or a play on words. Though the name is spelt as "Ernest" the reader still recognizes the double meaning of the title. Two of the main characters, Jack and Algernon, strive to be "Ernest" and "Earnest" in the play, yet they both deceive others to escape lives which they grow tired of. They both hope to marry the girls that they love, yet they are starting the relationships base on false pretence and lies. It is ironic that they both call themselves "Ernest," a name that suggests honesty and sincerity, yet they both create stories to escape something or the other. Jack creates a brother called "Ernest" in the city that he uses as a `scape goat' to leave his prim and proper, respectable country life, whereas Algernon creates a friend by the name of "Bunbury" to escape his aunt's high class society parties. He shows his lack of interest in such social events when he tells Jack,
She will place me next to Mary Far...
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... and the stern mask that Lady Bracknell wears slowly turns into a smile.
In conclusion, The Importance of Being Earnest strongly focuses on those of the upper class society and the vanity of the aristocrats who place emphasis on trivial matters concerning marriage. Both Algernon and Jack assume the identity of "Ernest" yet ironically, they both are beginning their marital lives based on deception and lies. Lady Bracknell represents the archetypal aristocrat who forces the concept of a marriage based on wealth or status rather than love. Through farce and exaggeration, Wilde satirically reveals the foolish and trivial matters that the upper class society looks upon as being important. As said earlier, a satiric piece usually has a didactic side to it. In this case, Lady Bracknell learns that the same person she was criticising is actually her own flesh and blood.
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