Description Of Hypocritical Tendencies in The Importance of Being Earnest

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Hypocrisy of the Upper Class in Victorian Society

A major theme in The Importance of Being Earnest is the hypocritical tendencies displayed throughout Upper-Class Victorian Society. Wilde’s witty writing style is used to expose these tendencies through his use of epigrams and paradoxical situations. Many quotes and scenes found in the play result in the opposite of what an audience would expect. Irony and inversions are utilized in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest to expose the extreme hypocritical tendencies of Victorian Society when dealing with class and morals. Upper-class Victorian Society is based on a hypocritical view on morals, as seen through Wilde’s witty use of epigrams to expose extremes of this mindset in his characters; this hypocritical mindset results in unjust decisions and an overall unfair society.

A perfect example of an epigram that utilizes hypocrisy in the play comes from early on in the first act. “Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?” (Wilde 2). This epigram depicts the hypocrisy of the upper class’criticisms of the lower classes for not setting a good example. Algernon, a man who is comfortably in the upper class, is criticizing lower classes for not being useful enough. Algernon feels that the lower class should be setting a good example, while he, in the higher class, does nothing to contribute to this good example.

One of the most prominent uses of hypocrisy in the play is through Lady Bracknell’s refusal to consent for marriage between Jack and Gwendolen, and then giving consent for a marriage between Algernon and Cecily. When discussing with Jack his proposal to Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell discovers that Jack was abandoned by his parents and left in a handbag when he was a baby. “To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life,” (Wilde 14). Even though Jack has a yearly income of, “seven and eight thousand a year,” (Wilde 13), these funds were not an adequate reason for Lady Bracknell to give her consent to the marriage of him to her daughter. While riches alone was not reason enough for Lady Bracknell to approve of her daughter’s marriage to Jack, it was, in fact, sufficient for her to give her approval of her nephew’s marriage to Cecily. After discovering that Cecily is in the possession of 130,000 pounds, Lady Bracknell immediately agrees to consent for their marriage. “A hundred and thirty thousand pounds! And in the funds! Miss Cardew seems to me a most attractive young lady, now that I look at her,” (Wilde 47). Lady Bracknell’s opinion on Cecily changed as soon as she discovered her riches. The satirical hypocrisy of this situation is used to expose the unjust morals of Victorian Society. Wilde utilizes Lady Bracknell’s character to take the hypocritical mindsets of Victorian England to an extreme.

Another character that represents the hypocritical nature of upper-class Victorian society is Gwendolen. As displayed in the epigram, “If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life,” (Wilde 52), Gwendolen’s character is utilized by Wilde to provide yet another example of how the upper class can be hypocritical. Gwendolen’s comment is extremely hypocritical, as she is making a promise that she is hoping that she will not have to keep. Through the epigram, “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing,” (Wilde 44), Wilde uses Gwendolen to once again represent the contradictory nature of upper-class Victorian society. The expectation would be that sincerity takes precedence over style, so when Gwendolen states that she feels that style is more important than sincerity, Wilde is once again utilizing his character to expose the extreme hypocrisy in Victorian Society.

All throughout The Importance of Being Earnest are examples of how Wilde uses extreme satire to prove his point of hypocrisy in upper-class Victorian society. The play constantly defies the expectations of the audience and, instead, does the exact opposite. The entire play is based around many criticisms of Victorian Society. Using epigrams to provide his audience with a witty way to discover the unjust nature of society, Wilde successfully critiques the hypocritical mindset of Victorian Society and, in turn, causes his audience to reconsider their morals.

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