Literary Research on Oscar Wilde “The Importance of Being Earnest”

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Great Britain, in the nineteenth century, was a nation whose laws forbade homosexuality. Consequently, men were reluctant to develop strong bonds with other male counterparts since they would be persecuted. Despite homosexuality being illegal, Oscar Wilde defied this law in pursuit of happiness and created sexual relationships with other men. Therefore, in his play, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Wilde proceeds to portray the issues in the relationships of men through various characters and literary devices.

The plot of the play is built around the habit of the main characters, Algernon and Jack, to use dual identities. Jack introduces himself as Jack’s brother Ernest when in town, while Algernon introduces himself as an invalid Bunbury to avoid social obligations. When Jack declares that his brother Ernest is dead, he is surprised to find that Algernon already introduced himself as Ernest. At the same time, both men, under the identity of Ernest, proposed to two different women who are now sure they are engaged to the same man. However, the women soon find out that they were lied to, which requires Algernon and Jack to come up with a plan of action. Eventually, through a combination of circumstances, Jack learns that his name was Ernest all along, as he was lost as a child, and Algernon is his older brother.

In “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Wilde utilizes exaggerated and absurd situations, puns, paradoxical humor, and nonsensical language. He creates a new genre that is challenging to imitate and one that combines social satire, comedy of manners, and farce. In this theatrical piece, Algernon and Jack are considered as not Earnest; however, they have the chance to be Earnest by being baptized. If Algernon and Jack take the Earnest name without undergoing any psychological and physical change, they will fit the tastes of Cecily and Gwendolen (Wilde 11). Furthermore, they will assume a completely new imitation since, in the first place, Earnest did not exist. By doing so, Wilde manages to deliver his message at a time when the laws were rigid, especially when it came to homosexuality.

The author plays with the mirage developed by appearances and ridicules the true gender identity perception and the expensive structure of gender. For instance, the outside appearance of Cecil is “feminine,” however, she has an attitude that one might consider “masculine” (Wilde 16). During the Victorian period, the rules of society did not allow women to participate in sports or have body functions. In the play, Algernon and Jack are men, however, they are dandies. For example, Algernon spends a lot of money on expensive clothes and has greedy behavior mostly associated with women. As a result, Wilde questions biology and its influence on the development of social behavior among men and women. Thus, the discourse concerning the body as digressive and the body as real continues within the gender research field. According to social theorists, an invariant biological platform underlies the body. On the other hand, according to Ibrahim, the human body is a constantly changing variable (256). Wilde tends to direct his plays towards changing the notion that gender roles cannot change.

During a period when there were strict rules concerning sexual orientation in Great Britain, Oscar Wilde became an iconic figure who defied homosexuality restricting laws to pursue his happiness. Through his numerous masterpiece, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” he presented different situations concerning male relationships. For the longest time, researchers have debated the topic of the origin of homosexuality. Some social theorists state that men should adhere to their specific gender identity. However, Wilde uses satire and comedy to ridicule these ideologies, thereby transforming people’s thoughts concerning a contentious issue. In the world of today, individuals utilize Wilde’s views to accommodate others’ social beliefs and practices. The suffocating social concepts concerning homosexuality no longer exist in most parts of the world. Wilde brilliantly managed to challenge gender representations, stereotypes, and social norms during his period while entertaining aristocratic communities.

Works Cited

Ibrahim, Md. K. “Authenticity vs. Inauthenticity in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.” International Journal of Language and Literary Studies, vol. 3, no. 2, 2021, pp. 254-261.

Wilde, Oscar. “The Importance of Being Earnest. 1895.” Act I 65 (1990).