Idea of Marriage in Oscar Wilde’s Book

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Updated: May 16, 2022
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“In the book, The Importance of being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, mentions the ideals of marriage between the characters and their situations. The Importance of Being Earnest focuses on two main couples, Jack (Ernest) and Gwendolen and Algernon and Cecily. However, Lady Bracknell, Gwendolens mother, plays a key role in the plot of satire that is being used regarding marriage ideals, as her ideals sum the ridiculous standards of the Victorian Age.

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Oscar Wilde uses satire to ridicule the cultural norms of marriage love and mind-set which were very rigid during the Victorian Age. The use of satire to ridicule these institutions, shows the deviance from the social order by making ridiculous the ideas of standards, morals and manners.

Wilde uses satirical devices within the book to convey his underlying ideas of marriage. Algernon, for example, plays as the man who becomes smitten by Cecily, Earnests adopted niece, convinced he loves her, even after jokingly talking to Ernest about him wanting to marry Gwendolen. “I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her”, says Ernest. Algernon says, “I thought you had come up for pleasure? . . . I call that business” (Wilde 9). Algernon seems to think that proposal and marriage are items of “”business,”” and not “”pleasure.”” He thinks of marriage as a social obligation he must fulfill in order to maintain a respectable name. Algernon represents a modern mindset toward marriage because he is skeptical about the happiness of couples in marriage and has fears about committing to one woman. Algernon reveals quickly in the book, his “fictional character”, Bunbury. “Nothing will induce me to part with Bunbury, and if you ever get married, which seems to me extremely problematic, you will be very glad to know Bunbury. A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it”, says Algernon. Ernest says, “That is nonsense. If I marry a charming girl like Gwendolen, and she is the only girl I ever saw in my life that I would marry, I certainly won’t want to know Bunbury.” Algernon then says, “Then your wife will. You don’t seem to realize, that in married life three is company and two is none”” (Wilde 16 ). This would be the satirical device of incongruity. Algernon mocks marriage through skepticism concerning romance. Ernest attempts to romanticize the idea of proposing as much as he can using Algernon’s views. Wilde employs this element to mock the idea of marriage in a Victorian society, because it is seen as a business arrangement instead of a romance to them.

Wilde deliberately uses farce in the play to exaggerate the mind frame of the upper class. In the book, Gwendolen loves Ernest, but she places greater importance on superficial matters such as a proper proposal. Gwendolen says “I adore you (To Ernest). But you haven’t proposed to me yet. Nothing has been said at all about marriage. The subject has not even been touched on” (Wilde 22). Gwendolen reveals that she thinks marriages and proposals should be organized. Her insistence on a proper proposal also reveals her coy nature. Gwendolen and Cecily’s ideas are completely unrealistic about love, engagement and marriage. Her greatest aspiration is to marry a man called Earnest. “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 55). Both Gwendolen and Cecily yearn to have a husband called “Ernest.” When Jack attempts to tell Gwendolen that his name is really “Jack” and not “Ernest” she replies saying, “Jack… No, there is very little music in the name Jack, if any at all, indeed” (Wilde 21). The satirical device used for this reversal. It is reversal because in normal order, standards then are not common now. For example, Gwendolen and Cecilys’ idea of marriage consists off a name of someone, which no one can control, when in all honesty it does not matter.

Wilde uses Lady Bracknell to show a typical aristocrat who bends no rules of the upper- class society especially when it comes to marriage. She represents women of the Victorian upper- class society and believes that those of high class should be the ones in power, she has very little opinion of those with no title, or money. Lady Bracknell meets with Ernest to discuss the marriage of him and Gwendolen. Instead of asking Ernest if he loves Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell focuses on the materialistic side of the situation.. Lady Bracknell says to Ernest, “Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself . . . And now I have a few questions to put to you, Mr. Worthing” (Wilde 23). It is obvious from these comments that Lady Bracknells’ idea of marriage differs greatly from Gwendolen’s.

While Gwendolen believes that a girl should be able to fall in love and marry the man of her choice, regardless of his social class, Lady Bracknell thinks that love should have nothing to do with it. In fact, she thinks that it’s okay for a girl not to even meet her future husband before marrying him. Lady Bracknells’ concept of marriage is based on the idea that it must be a mark of social status. “Lady Bracknell tells Ernest, “You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter—a girl brought up with the utmost care—to marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel? Good morning, Mr. Worthing!” (Wilde 27) Since Lady Bracknell thinks that a woman should marry to improve her social status, it makes sense that she would blast Jack for not knowing anything about his family. She refuses imagine any honorable man dreaming of proposing to her daughter without having noble connections. This is an example of parody. Wilde is creating a parody by making fun of the Victorian Age women. This is a major point Oscar Wilde focuses on in this comedy of manners where values are totally reversed and ridiculous.

In conclusion, The Importance of Being Earnest strongly focuses on those of the upper- class society ideals concerning marriage. Using satirical elements, Wilde reveals the foolish and trivial matters that the upper-class society looks upon as being important. Marriage not being a token of love and happiness but a token of social class and acceptance.”

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Idea of Marriage in Oscar Wilde's Book. (2021, May 24). Retrieved from