How Oscar Wilde use comedy to criticize the Victorian life?

Oscar_WildeAnswer:  The Importance of Being Earnest written by Oscar Wilde is a social satire. Not only does Wilde blast against the snobbery, self-importance, ignorance, and idleness of the upper-class Victorian society, but he also targets plenty of ideals that were as ridiculous as they were nonsensical, using irony and paradoxes to insinuate the problems and faults found in the Victorian society. The Importance of Being Earnest is set in the late Victorian Era during a social reform. The class system was defined by the animosity between classes, the upper class treating the lower class with disdain and disgust. The upper class was rigidly controlled by savoir faire, knowing what to eat, wear and how to behave. The Importance of Being Earnest satirizes the class system, etiquette and disposition that were expected from Victorians. Wilde uses irony, humor and characters not only to call attention to the absurdity of the Victorian behavior but also to highlight the ironic humor in the characters short comings that reflect the Victorians who were watching it.

Along with its absurdities and improbabilities in its plot, Wilde is trying to present his personal ridiculously, when actually he doesn’t really ridicule them. In this Play he has explained the exaggerated lives, the people at the time led. He wrote about how young men then, loved to sit idle and wanted to have fun most of the time and live a life of extravagance. Algernon in this play would be the most accurate picture of such a man. Wilde portrayed him as an aristocratic young man, who is facing financial crisis and creditors knocking at his door. Hence he invented an invalid friend in the country to use as an escapade from the town, creditors and relative. Similarly Jack Worthing created a foster brother to escape country to have fun in town. And also Wilde has put forward how people then felt tedious about their relatives.


The play is a light-hearted comedy but also a social satire utilizing this chance to criticize social issues. The use of irony reveals an inconsistency between the characters words and the truth, suggesting that society is hypocritical. The Importance of Being Earnest reflects the audience it was written for. From the entrance of “Mr. Earnest Worthing,” there are constant criticisms between Jack and Algy. Jack criticizes Algy for speaking, “you talk exactly as if you were a dentist.” This criticism presents an irony; Jack believes it is “very vulgar,” for Algy to present to be someone he is not. This is ironic as Jack is not self-critical enough to be aware that by being “Earnest in town and Jack in the country,” he himself is presenting a “false impression,” and behaving like a hypocrite:

“My dear boy, I love hearing my relations abused. It is the only thing that makes me put up with them at all. Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t the remotest knowledge of neither how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die”

Though there is a serious note hidden behind the dialogue Wilde used but the way he presented to his audience with much satire that it generated laughter rather than accusations. Hence Oscar wilder Unlike his other serious writings made this play a comedy yet successfully tried to bring the real message in front of our eyes the disparity between the lower and the upper class, Fashionable and unfashionable sides, Hypocrisy and aristocratic power.


An example of this is the treatment of the themes of marriage and courtship. To the Victorians, marriage was an institution that provided social possibilities for both parties involved: The “better” the marriage the higher the possibilities. Marriage also served as a way to network for the improvement of family finances and for the preservation of family names. On the other hand, courtship was part of this networking process: It was the period of “weeding out” good or bad “candidates”.

In the play The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde treats the topic of marriage with plenty of comedy, especially among the male characters. Lane, Algernon’s butler, admits that his marriage was a result of a “misunderstanding”; Algernon feels that marriage is “demoralizing”; Lady Bracknell sees it as a process in which she has to “work together” with higher ranking ladies to assure that the candidate is “satisfactory”; Gwendolen and Cecily see marriage as a fantasy led by the triviality of a first name. In all, that aspect of Victorian society which was so safeguarded in the best families was the subject of complete ridicule in the play.

Likewise, Wilde also exposed to view the rebellious nature of daughters and how in that era girls wanted no control of parents. For instance, in the play when Lady Bracknell enters the room inquiring about the happening, Gwendolen asked her to retire and mentions that it is no place of her presence with she being betrothed to Ernest Jack. Wilde successfully managed to mock the daughter mother relation of the time yet he made it all a comedy in order to lighten up the harshness making the audience titters along.

Another Main aspect that Oscar Wilde evoked in people’s mind is the institution of marriage. For example how Gwendolen was pleased to know that Jack is an orphan and Cecily excited to learn about Algernon’s wickedness. Moreover, their shared desire to marry someone named Ernest demonstrates that their romantic dreams hinge upon titles and not character. While Lady Bracknell on the other hand held other priorities in a marriage. She didn’t approve of Jack when she learnt about him being an orphan. She didn’t even look upon Cecily for Algernon until she got to know she has a large personal fortune. Hence Wilde has throughout put forward the manipulative desires that revolved around marriage.

Another aspect of society that is satirized is the secret reality of how the upper classes enjoy living above their means. We see that, even though both Algernon and Jack are considered “upper class men”, both have a very hard time paying back creditors. Algernon does not pay because he is obviously an over-spending dandy. Jack is too, but his overspending is done as his alter-ego “Ernest”, who has a penchant for eating in expensive restaurants and not paying the bill. In Jack’s case, he just enjoys the thrill of being “bad”. However, both Algernon and Jack expose the reality of many so-called “well to do” families: Many of them lived off their family name and did not have enough capital to sustain their expensive habits.

Therefore, Wilde basically gives Victorian society all he has to give as far as his true feelings for it: He care very little for the high and mighty ways that Victorians would adopt only to look down on the underdog. Hence, the play did its job at making their lives look fake, trivial, and worst of all, worthy of laughter!

In short, Oscar Wilde using his epigrams and witty maxims to expose the absurdities of the society while using paradox and turning it into a total comedy. He managed to established a Cliche and alter it to make it illogical and somehow logical as well, “in marriage three is company two is none”, He echoes dialogue and actions using a fast paced, absurd ending in order the audience overlooks its implausibility.