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Essay: Victorian Society and theme of deception in The Importance of Being Earnest

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  • Published: 22 January 2022*
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  • Tags: Oscar Wilde essays

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Humans deceive one another through their actions, and through what they say. Oscar Wilde mocks Britain’s society and the rules it follows in the 1800s. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde uses satire throughout the play to show a truth about Victorian Society and the human condition. Wilde satirizes the upper class through paradoxes. He uses particular characters to demonstrate the techniques of satire through examples of paradox. Wilde explores the theme of deception The Importance of Being Earnest, through the conflicts that come up when the truth collides with their bunburying. Wilde uses paradox to poke fun at the upper class population and the way they deceive each other.
Algernon shows deception through the use of satire to depict the attitudes of the upper class people in the Victorian Society. Algernon believes that the lower class has to have good morals in order for the upper class to also have good morals. In a paradoxical statement, Algernon says “Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.” (Wilde 322). This paradoxical statement is humorous because Algernon is relying on a population that is less than he is to show him how to have good morals. Algernon relies on finding morality in lower class people because he can not find it in himself. Algernon believes that the only thing the lower class is good for is having good morals. According to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, the idea that Algernon, a person of luxury, land, and distinguished lineage, should require any refinement by his manservant, Lane, is utterly ridiculous, or intended to seem so, a paradox. In this statement by the Utah Shakespeare Festival, one would be able to tell how Algernon ultimately concludes how someone should act based on their class in society. Wilde portrays how the Victorian Society was acting because he wants to show the readers how crazed the upper class was. Algernon deceives the lower class people by wanting them to set a good example for the upper class, yet he believes they have no sense of moral responsibility. Wilde’s use of paradoxes helps depict the attitudes of upper class people through satire.
Cecily and Algernon use satire through deception to make fun of the upper class people. Algernon is posing as Jack’s made-up brother Ernest, and he falls in love with Cecily. Cecily and Algernon have to part due to the fact that Jack does not want Algernon to talk to Cecily. In a paradoxical statement Cecily says “It is always painful to part from people whom one has known for a brief space of time” (356). This is a humorous paradox because Cecily and Algernon just met, and they were sad to leave each other, yet they had felt like they were together forever. The readers can see that Wilde is poking fun at the upper class because Algernon and Cecily barely even know each other. Wilde is trying to show how upper class women do not care about the personality of the man they are in love with, and that they mostly care about their name. Oscar Wilde is trying to show the readers that the upper class cared more about their image to society. Wilde shows deception by having Cecily device Algernon about how she feels towards him. The readers realize that Wilde shows how dramatic the Victorian society was especially when Cecily says “…seems to me to be in every way the visible personification of absolute perfection” ( 357). Cecily had just met Algernon, yet she already loved him because she loved the reputation attached to his name. Cecily and Algernon had just met each other, but they automatically fell in love. Cecily fell in love with Algernon because she was told he was her “Wicked cousin Ernest” (343). The readers can tell that at first Algernon and Cecily’s love was not real, and that they were only in love because of what they had heard about each other and because of their appearances. Wilde pokes fun of the upper class population through in The Importance of Being Earnest because he makes the people sound ridiculous.
Gwendolen pokes fun at the upper class by being deceiving, which is shown using satire. Gwendolen and Cecily had just found out that their fiancés were bunburyists. Jack and Algernon had superficial names, and finally told Cecily and Gwendolen. Cecily and Gwendolen were furious, but Cecily wanted to know why Algernon faked his name. He gave her an answer and Cecily consulted Gwendolen about it. Gwendolen told her think about his answer, and that it is only good if she believes it. Cecily does not believe him, but she loves the way he said it. Cecily loves getting compliments, and she likes getting reassured that someone loves her. Gwendolen then responds in a paradoxical statement saying “True. In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing” (371). This is humorous because she is saying that the superficial things, and the appearance of things are the most important things is a relationship. She is deceiving Cecily, and is trivializing the importance of a relationship. The readers realize how Wilde is making fun of the upper class by showing how they trivialize important things. This is a paradox that portrays deception because Gwendolen is saying a completely invalid response to Cecily, and the readers can tell that the statement is the complete opposite of what it should be. Wilde makes fun of the upper class by demonstrating how gullible, and careless they are. Upper class people only cared about the appearance of their loved ones.
Wilde uses paradox to portray how the upper class acts, and how they deceive one another. Wilde uses the theme of deception frequently throughout In the Importance of Being Earnest, by having the upper class characters deceive each other through the things they say, and through the secret bunburying Jack and Algernon do. The upper class portrays the techniques of satire, which helps the readers further understand the Victorian Society.
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