The Importance of Being Earnest: Aristocracy

With The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde presents a satirical commentary on the arrogance and privilege of the aristocrats. He utilizes several characters throughout the play to portray this arrogance and snobbish entitlement including Jack and Lady Bracknell. Throughout the play, there is a clear sense of pretentiousness amongst the upper class; these characters hold the thought that they are deserving of their current status and the higher position they sit on. The lower class on the other hand, are characterized, much like Hallward of The Picture of Dorian Gray, as humble and honest. In a way, the entire plot that is centered around Jack’s ambitions to marry into the upper class, demonstrates a hypocrisy that shuns and berates the upper class. With the character of Lady Bracknell, Wilde portrays the harsh reality of an immovable class system and mocks the higher class and its arrogance. Bracknell states, “The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.” Such seems to reflect Wilde’s own commentary on social class and education; the harsh truth is that education, or any real doings in daily life do not affect social class. Bracknell was born into her higher class and Wilde highlights the injustice behind such entry into her social station along with the impossibility of moving towards the higher classes. Gwendolen and Cecily are also subject to such mockery on Wilde’s part, as he repeatedly paints them as superficial and ignorant. He ridicules the upper class by exaggerating their obsession with superficialities such as style or food. Their obsession with such demonstrates the shallowness of the upper class quite clearly on Wilde’s part.

One thought on “The Importance of Being Earnest: Aristocracy”

  1. I think it’s very interesting how Wilde critiques the ridiculousness of the upper class in the two plays we read, and yet in reality, he strove to fit in with the upper class. The least ridiculous characters in both the plays seem to be the servants. Algernon even tells Lane at the beginning of The Importance of Being Earnest that the lower class should model morality for the upper class to imitate. However, Wilde thinks that morality is boring, so even though the upper class is shallow and ridiculous, they’re still aspirational for being entertaining.

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