Sunday, 30 April 2017

Discuss ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ as a Social Satire.


A satire is a literary form  that blends ironic humour and wit with criticism for the purpose of ridiculing follies, vices, foibles, stupidity etc. in individuals and institutions. ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ gives us a satirical picture of the English upper class of the time although there is a couple of satirical portraits of persons belonging to certain different orders of society namely those of a clergyman and governess.

Discuss ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ as a Social Satire.

Let us first consider the satirical portrayal of Algernon who is a typical representative of the English upper class of the time. His shallowness, irresponsibility, extravagance, vanity and gluttony are the main targets of satire. He belongs to the English aristocracy but because of extravagance he is always in debt as it is pointed out by Lady Bracknell, ‘he has nothing but his debts to depend upon.’

Jack also represents the upper class but is much better than Algernon in certain respects. He is a responsible guardian and a serious type of young man. While Algernon is too light-hearted Jack is too serious-minded. His very solemnity is made to look ridiculous. Cecily opines that Uncle Jack sometimes looks so serious as to give the impression that he is unwell. His over seriousness may be found in his refusal to go either to the theater or to the club or to empire.

The portrayal of Lady Bracknell is perhaps the most satirical of all. Through her portrayal the playwright exposes to  ridicule the foibles, absurdities and vanity of the upper class ladies of his time. Lady Bracknell claims to have a taste for music but she would like her nephew to make the selection of the numbers to be played at her party. Her principal absurdities are her snobbery, class consciousness, her mercenary outlook on life, her suspicious nature and her domineering temperament.

Next two characters outside the aristocracy are Dr. Chausble the clergyman and Miss Prism, the governess. Dr. Chasuble instead of inspiring respect, is subject to ridicule for his pompous manner of speaking, his hypocrisy, his lack of real scholarship and his materialistic attitude to life. Thus ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ satirizes vividly the mannerisms, vices and follies of the England society of the time.

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