Wednesday, October 31, 2012
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
One of the Socratic Seminar questions for the play is as follows, "The prevalent philosophy that Wilde suggests in this drama is that trivial matters should be treated with greater respect, and less attention should be paid to what is regarded by society as serious. How is this philosophy expressed in relation to: death, politics, money, property, food, and marriage?" In the text, all of these matters are critically trivialized.
Firstly, death is brushed aside as something that is too common to really deserve much attention. The characters in the drama give death very little respect. For example, in the first act, Lady Bracknell has a friend who's husband just recently passed away. She mentions the death without very much concern and follows the announcement by also saying that her friend is doing quite well and looks much younger. It is obvious that her friend is not upset at all by the death of her husband. Another example is Algernon's friend, Bunbury. Although he isn't real and, therefore, Algy wouldn't have a reason to be distraught at his passing, Lady Bracknell fully believes that Bunbury exists, yet she doesn't seem at all concerned that he passed away after being so ill for so long. Thirdly, there is the part where Jack's fake brother, Ernest, passes away. Even though Cecily, Dr. Chasuble and Miss Prism seem respectfully concerned, Jack brushes it off. Even though Jack knows that Ernest is fake, he was supposed to be Jack's brother and the whole lie would have been a lot more convincing if he had acted grieved over his death.
Money and property are normally trivial matters. However, in this play, they are made out to be more important than matters such as death and marriage. The most prominent instance where this is seen is when Lady Bracknell is interviewing Jack as a possible suitor for Gwendolen. Even though it is obvious that Jack really cares about her and would be a good husband, Lady Bracknell is concerned only about Jack's finances and social reputation because she wants to make her name look better to the public. When she finds out that Jack does have a fair amount of money and land, that starts to make her want to consider him. However, once Jack tells her that he is adopted and doesn't know who his parents are, Bracknell is turned off from the idea, completely. She doesn't want this sort of uncertainty tainting the family name.
Food is another trivial matter that is blown up in the drama. The characters put a lot of emphasis on food and use it as a symbol of power. When Gwendolen and Cecily are having their little spat about "Ernest", they try to stay polite and eat the food. Gwendolen asks to have no sugar in her tea but Cecily puts in a whole bunch. When Gwendolen says she would like one of the foods, Cecily gives her the other. It makes Gwendolen angry but, since she is a lady of class, she holds her anger in. Cecily knows this and takes it to her advantage.
As for marriage, we consider it to be a very important part of life. In the play, marriage is used only to bring wealth and and stronger reputations to families whereas, today, marriage is about two people who love each other. Even though Jack seems to love Gwendolen sincerely, Gwendolen only wants to be with Jack because she thinks his name is Ernest and she is very fond of that name. When Algernon first meets Cecily, he becomes very infatuated with her and tells her he loves her. Because Cecily thinks Algernon's name is also Ernest and she is also fond of the name, she think she loves him, too. Both Cecily and Gwendolen think that Ernest is a very respectful-sounding name. Lady Bracknell will only allow Jack to marry Gwendolen if he finds out who his parents are because she thinks it wouldn't reflect well on her if her daughter married an adopted man. She also only decides to allow Algernon to marry Cecily because she thinks Cecily could be transformed into a society woman and because she has a lot of money in the Funds.
Basically, if this were real, their backwards way of life would sicken me. I just cannot understand how people could live in such an artificial way. I would be truly unhappy if I was made to marry someone just because they had money and connections and I didn't love them. And though food is important because we would die without it, I found the use of food in the drama to be downright ridiculous. However, because this is a satire (and a very good one at that), I very much enjoyed it. Their idiocy was extremely entertaining to read and I think Oscar Wilde made a very good point in his play.