Explore how Wilde presents social status in The Importance of Being Earnest. You must relate your discussion to relevant contextual factors.

Topic sentence: In the play, The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde presents social status as a corrupt hierarchy.

Context: The play is set during the reign of Queen Victoria, a time where many people believed in the concept of the chain of being. The chain of being enforced the idea that those of a lower social status should look up to those higher in the chain.

Wilde satirises this idea by reversing the social norms and giving the lower class the responsibility of setting a ‘good example’. Not only does this highlight the backwards and ridiculous nature of Victorian attitudes towards social status, but Wilde also emphasises the corruption of the system as the lower class are presented as having ‘absolutely no sense of moral responsibility’. Wilde uses this role reversal to expose the dishonest and immoral nature of those whose social status deem them as being role models for the lower classes to look up to.

It is clear that the concept of social status in a hierarchical manner is something that Wilde believes is parochial and corrupt.


 

Topic sentence: Wilde also presents social status as an unjust system in his play The Importance of Being Earnest.

Context: In Victorian England social status was inherited, no matter how hard you worked, or how smart you were, people were confined to stay within their birthed position on the social hierarchy.

Wilde mocks this immovable system of social status through the upper class in his play. Lady Bracknell states that ‘education produces no effect whatsoever.’ Wilde creates mockery through Lady Bracknell as is he highlighting how unfair her high born status is as she has not earned it, he is scorning the fact that what people do in life that essentially should give them high social status, i.e. education, in Victorian England ‘produces no effect’.

It is also significant that Wilde expresses emotions of worry and ‘danger’ amongst the upper classes surrounding their unearned social status as seen through Lady Bracknell. Wilde satirises the fact that upper class Victorians are stuck in their beliefs on social status, even though they know that in reality, they are no more above the lower classes.

So Wilde is highlighting the dated and unfair tradition of social status in Victorian England.


 

Topic sentence: Social status is further explored through Wilde’s presentation of it being hugely about superficiality and keeping up appearances.

Context: Throughout the Victorian era the wealthy were expected to follow a guideline of Victorian etiquette and flaunt their high social status through material items, all to keep up and showcase their high positions.

Wilde mocks the superficiality of socialites through the trivial conversation that we are shown between Gwendolen and Cecily in act two of the play. Wilde uses these characters to ridicule how meaningless and shallow the appearances that the upper classes maintain really are. This is highlighted through futile quotes like, ‘sugar is not fashionable any more’ or that ‘cake is rarely seen at the best houses.’ The fact that Gwendolen is so focused on style, even when it is surrounding something as frivolous as food emphasises just how shallow and meaningless the appearances that the upper class uphold are.

Wilde presents people of high social status as being tremendously surface based.


 

Topic sentence: Oscar Wilde also presents social status within Victorian society as being strongly divided.

Context: Along with people being tied to their positions within the Victorian social hierarchy, people were also expected to only mingle and connect with those of the same social status. This was done in order to keep up with the status quo and keep a clear division between social hierarchy ranks.

Wilde exposes the folly of this division through Lady Bracknell’s materialistic nature. While she initially dismisses the lower born Cecily Cardew as a suitor for Algernon, after her large ‘fortune’ is revealed Lady Bracknell is eager to allow Cecily into her family. The way in which Lady Bracknell jumps from one end of the spectrum to the complete other shows just how materialistic and shallow this division between social classes was in the Victorian period. Wilde uses something as insignificant as money as the deciding factor to resolve Cecily’s social status to stress just how ridiculous and pointless this division between classes was.

Wilde presents the divide between social classes as being trivial and meaningless.


 

Then conclude.

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