“The Importance of being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde
In The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, men in this society were valued higher than the women of this time, in 1885. This play focuses on social roles and how women and men interact with one another. Wilde presents women in an inconsistent way, which makes them weak in the eyes of the society, but also strong in their influence of others and their character and morals. This play “satirizes Victorianism,” and shows that society should change. This play is disrespecting the morals and standards of the current society which has a direct influence on how women were treated and how they were expected to act. We are arguing that this is immoral in many ways and how the perception of women needed to change immediately. Wilde switches roles of males and females many times, showing that males could be house servants, which is usually more female-dominated role. Since in Wilde’s own life he was quite effeminate, I believe that he felt the social roles of the time were unequal and unaccepting. He could also relate to women and saw them as equals to himself. This is true because if he revealed himself to be homosexual, he would be hated and looked down upon.
In act I, the character of Jack states, “My dear fellow, the truth isn’t quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl. What extraordinary ideas you have about the way to behave to a woman!” This is showing that there is implication that women are too spoiled, uncompromising, and fragile to handle “the truth.” This can also explain why Jack and Algernon don’t lose sleep over their lies to their beloveds. They believe that they are defending their women from a cruel society that they live in. Since men have their own certain ways of handling how they treat women, their actions are not able to impress any woman in their society. Women are shown to be inferior and more submissive than the men.
In The Importance of Being Earnest, women want to signify strength and dominance over men, even though they are sometimes dismissed. An example occurs when Gwendolyn states, “I am always smart! Am I not, Mr. Worthing?” The purpose of this is Gwendolyn showing to Jack that she is smarter. Jack replies with telling her that she is perfect, but Jack disagrees.
We also find that Gwendolyn desires Ernest to look upon her in a specific way when in public reveals she is a hopeless woman; she is concerned about her appearance in the eyes of society: “What wonderfully blue eyes you have, Ernest! They are quite, quite, blue. I hope you will always look at me just like that, especially when there are other people present.” This is affirming to us that Gwendolyn wants men to look at her in a wanting way, as if she specifically needs the male sex to validate her and choose her. As a further example of women’s desire for expression and equality, is the scene where Lady Bracknell shows her dominance when Jack proposes to Gwendolyn. Lady Bracknell’s refusal to consent to their marriage, shows how customs of society come into play. In this era, women usually had to have parental consent and didn’t choose who they married; this is so that they would gain an exchange. Possibly in this scene, Lady Bracknell is punishing Gwendolyn by making her go off in the carriage. You can see that Lady Bracknell is used to getting her way, and won’t take any other answer. However, Gwendolyn returns to Jack to tell him, “Although she may prevent us from becoming man and wife, and I may marry someone else, and marry often, nothing she can possibly do can alter my eternal devotion to you.” Even though Gwendolyn obeys her mother and seems like a typical Victorian woman, she is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. She doesn’t let the common practice of women having a power of refusal get to her.
Since Gwendolyn Fairfax and Cecily Cardew are the main two females in this play, they both provide conflict as they are objects of affection. In the first two acts, they are deceived by Jack and Algernon; then in act three, all is forgiven. Both of these women are hopelessly in love with their male counterparts; however, both of these women are intent on marrying a man named Earnest. Cecily states, “there is something in that name that seems to inspire absolute confidence.”
This play deals with the deception of society; by others believing that women have act in a certain way, and the strains of gender roles placed upon men of the times, and male dominance in marriage. The women show unusual behavior by being overly hostile in their love lives and the men make up alternate identities to escape honesty. Wilde uses conventional characters but reverse their traditional roles, making them unconventional.
Wilde reverses society and creates a world of his own in which the societal roles of his characters are contrary to tradition. Throughout the play, the true principles of Victorian women are ridiculed, as well as the characters of those who do not conform to the model of a submissive, inferior Victorian woman. I believe that Wilde presented the women in his play as influential and taking on more masculine characteristics of the time period, as portrayed throughout the play, women take on much more powerful, intellectual roles than what society believed acceptable. I believe the role reversals between male and females of the play had the biggest impact on the play and it shows that women can do just what men can do.