‘Wilde constructs comedy by ruthlessly mocking marriage.’ In the light of this comment, explore Wilde’s dramatic presentation of marriage in The Importance of Being Earnest. In your answer you must consider relevant contextual factors.

This is an essay plan:

Introduction –

  • One of the main themes in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is marriage.
  • Among other things, Wilde satirises the Victorians views on marriage.
  • Marriage was seen as a way for people to better their social position.
  • The ludicrousness around how the characters behave when it comes to matters of marriage creates comedy.
  • Wilde is mocking the Victorian ways.


Paragraph 1 (Lady Bracknell interviews Jack) –

  • Wilde presents marriage as an agreement made for ‘business’ rather than ‘pleasure’.
  • He is mocking the Victorian ideas of marriage through the character of Lady Bracknell.
  • After discovering his desire to marry Gwendolen she gives him a very trivial interrogation on matters such as his ‘income’, ‘parents’ and smoking status. These questions spark comedy from the audience because of how thoughtless and ridiculous they are.
  • Lady Bracknell is a representation of those very conventional Victorians. Wilde is using satire here to mock the fact that marriages are made with selfish intentions.
  • During the Victorian era your family and social status was very important when it came to finding a suitor.
  • One of the most obvious ways in which Wilde is mocking the Victorians is through the fact that Lady Bracknell believes that Jack being an orphan shows his ‘carelessness’.
  • It is ridiculous and the fact that she is being so outrageous and senseless is comical.
  • Wilde highlighting the materialism of the Victorians through mocking marriage to create humour.


Paragraph 2 (gender role reversal) –

  • Wilde also mocks marriage through the use of gender role reversal as seen through Gwendolen and Jacks relationship.
  • Gwendolen is openly flirty with Jack, which was uncommon for a Victorian woman as it was always the man that pursued the woman. In this case Gwendolen flirtatiously refers to Jack as ‘Mr Worthing’ and ‘blows kisses’ to him even after her mothers disapproval.
  • Wilde creates comedy through this because of how uncommon it would be for a Victorian audience to see such an openly expressive woman.
  • Another way Wilde sparks comedy through gender role reversal is through Jacks proposal to Gwendolen.
  • Gwendolen takes over the proposal (a mans job) and brushes away his attempt as if ‘the subject has not even been touched on’.
  • She wants perfection so that she can keep up appearances.
  • Appearance was very important to Victorians.
  • This mockery of marriage being all about appearances and Gwendolen taking on the role of the man is a perfect example of mockery. Wilde creates humour through his expose on how superficial marriage was to Victorians.


Paragraph 3 (characters different views on marriage) –

  • Wilde also creates comedy through mocking marriage by the way he paradoxes the characters views.
  • Algys cynical views on marriage alongside Jacks romantic efforts.
  • Algernon believes that ‘divorces are made in heaven’ and marriage is ‘demoralising’.
  • While Jack has a more positive outlook on marriage and romance.
  • This is all amusing because even though these characters have such contrasting views on marriage, they both still fight over being ‘christened’ with the name Earnest in order to please their women.
  • Wilde also juxtaposes Gwendolen and Cecily.
  • Gwendolen is realistic about marriage, which contrasts Cecily’s fantasies.
  • Gwendolen aims for perfection and ‘experience’ in proposals, while Cecily doesn’t even give Algy the chance to propose in person. She has crafted this illusion that he has already proposed.
  • Once again this is comical because even though these two women have different outlooks on marriage, they both still have a ‘girlish dream’ to ‘love someone whose name was Ernest’.
  • Wilde is mocking how to all Victorians marriage is the same, no matter what views they initially have, the Victorian superficial ways (as seen through the desire to be named Earnest) is seen in all Victorians.


Conclusion –

  • Wilde highlights that in reality for the Victorians marriage is all the same.
  • It is superficial and things are done with the people’s appearances in mind.
  • While in the 21st century we believe marriage is a union made for love, for the Victorians it is all ‘business’.
  • Wilde humours this through his vastly different characters to show that everyone carried the same ridiculous beliefs when it came to marriage.



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