I have really enjoyed the first half of The Importance of Being Earnest. The play’s comedic elements have been quite entertaining, and I found Wilde’s portrayal of the aristocratic class’ ridiculousness to be especially humorous. More specifically, Lady Bracknell’s extreme callousness was of particular interest to me. The first instance of this quality occurs when Bracknell blames the infirm for their own lack of health. She says, “Nor do I in any way approve of the modern sympathy with invalids…Health is the primary duty of life” (329). Because health often cannot be controlled (especially with illness), Bracknell’s classification of this physical condition as a duty seems utterly absurd and cruel. Along these same lines, she strangely implies that it is Jack’s fault that his parents are dead by explaining that “to lose both [parents] seems like carelessness” (333). Again, the death of your loved ones is almost always not in your control, so Bracknell’s statement is extremely ignorant and cold-hearted. This almost hyperbolic insensitivity is then connected to a political bias when Bracknell describes her political philosophy of refusing to “put the asses against the classes,” which could allude to her aristocratic aversion of the rise of the “asses” or educated middle class (she also complains about the rise in education earlier in the play) (333). Furthermore, the climax of her lack of empathy and classist views occurs when she exclaims, “To be born…in a hand-bag…seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution” (334). This statement continues her pattern of blaming people for things that they cannot control (here: being an orphan) while also criticizing Jack’s rags to riches story by comparing it to the French Revolution’s aggressive stance against the aristocracy. She even has the gal to suggest that Jack “to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible” – a feat that she knows would be near impossible to achieve (334).
One thought on “Aristocratic Callousness in The Importance of Being Earnest”
I also observed the callousness of Lady Bracknell in my post. I think her absurd nature is Wilde poking fun at the upper crust of society, but I am unsure about what sentiment Wilde is wanting to convey to the audience as we keep on reading. Is he just poking fun and not really pushing for a change in the way society functions? Or is he going to push for a more sincere change? I am curious to see which direction Wilde will take this.