Gender Roles and Love in “The Importance of being Earnest”

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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“The Importance of Being Earnest” is a trivial comedy for serious people written by Oscar Wilde. Wilde expresses comedy through purposely criticizing the aristocratic. In “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Oscar Wilde treats humorously serious issues and conflicts, such as class structure, marriage and courtship, as if they are a joke to the Victorian Society.

In the Victorian Society and even in today’s society, the world is extremely stereotypical against gender. Wilde views the females in the play stereotypically. For example, Cecily and Gwendolen are portrayed as dainty, nice and dependent, making them “attractive and desirable.

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” However, women who are independent and controlling are portrayed as “unattractive and mean.” In the Victorian Society, men had a greater influence on the world than women did. Men were the only ones allowed to make political decisions, the “breadwinners” meaning they were the ones that held a job to provide for their families. Wilde quotes “But these expectations are completely flouted. The refined young ladies turn out to be hard-headed, cold-blooded, efficient and completely self-possessed and the young gentlemen simply crumple in front of them” ( ) to emphasize how the women of the house was expected to stay home to work around the house while taking care of the children. While this is the society’s way of viewing things, Wilde puts interesting views on gender roles in “The Importance of being Earnest” by putting Lady Bracknell in positions of power and by showing that men, such as Jack and Algernon, can be irresponsible and bad at decision making. Wilde reverses the gender stereotypical views in the play by reversing the roles of women and men. He portrays that it is not about someone’s gender to depend on how “responsible” someone is, but their mindset. Any gender, female or male, can ultimately be just as responsible or independent as the other. Wilde further proves the reversal in gender roles when Gwendolen declares her eternal love and devotion to Earnest. “Earnest, we may never be married. From expression on mamma’s face I fear we never shall. But although she may prevent us from becoming man and wife, and I may marry some one else, and marry often, nothing that she can possibly do can alter my eternal devotion to you.” (Wilde I) Usually, the male character swears his love to the female, but in this moment of gender role reversal, Gwendolen completes that task.

In “The Importance of Being Earnest,” pampered young women have a tilted view on reality, inspired by romantic novels. When real life becomes too “modern,” these women decide to control things on their own by recording fantasies in diaries. For example, Gwendolen’s “ideal” of loving the “name of Earnest” is not established around logic. Gwendolen says “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 name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you,” ( )emphasizing that her love for the name Earnest is actually aesthetic. As Jack proves, he does not deserve the name that means “honest” because he continues to feed into the dishonesty of his name being “Earnest.” Gwendolen’s love is conditional, centered around a characteristic so small yet so irrelevant, such as her lovers name. She points out that if his name was indeed not Earnest, she could never love Jack.

This reveals a sense of uncertainty that she may be mixing up real love with the fantasy of romances in fairytales. Not only does Gwendolen fantasize over being in love with the name Earnest, Cecily lets her secret out. She controls her everything that happens in her romantic life by writing in her diary. She quotes “I keep a diary in order to enter the wonderful secrets of my life. If I didn’t write them down, I should probably forget all of them.” (Wilde II) She is obviously unsatisfied with her boring life, in which she does nothing but study, so she creates a series of romantic scenarios featuring her secret admirer “Earnest.” Potential lovers come into their life and provide an opportunity to act out of the fantasies, but the women’s standards of courtship often prove to mischievous and idealistic for reality. There is actually no tragic disillusionment present, just marriages. Ultimately, Earnest is a comedy.

Even in today’s society it is difficult to distinguish the difference between real love or a idealistic fantasy of “love,” much like in “The Importance of Being Earnest.” The reader must understand an un-realistic sense of love. For example, Earnest physical attraction can initiate a love affair. A relationship comes with forgiveness as a big characteristic within a relationship. Both women forgive the men for their discrepancies when they see the good intentions behind their crimes. It appeals that the definition of love in this play is not an unconditional and self-sacrificing love, but a general mindset of good intentions, admiration, and honest affection. Plenty of individuals in the world have the same mindset that Algernon have on marriage. Some people just simply do not see a purpose in it, are afraid of marriage, or just really do not want to go through the process of engagement and a wedding. Algernon states “I really don’t see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty” emphasizing his views on the proposal of marriage. He believes like some individuals in this day and time.

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Gender Roles and Love in "The Importance of Being Earnest". (2021, Jun 30). Retrieved from