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    The Conflict Among Social Classes in the Play “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde

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    Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest, features many themes; one of the most prominent being conflict among the two social classes. Wilde’s play shows the differences in behavior between the upper and lower classes. The upper class have a great amount of pride, feeling as though they are entitled to their positions in society; on the other hand, the lower class are less pretentious and humbler.

    The wealthier members of society at this time see their lifestyles as a sort of high ground and believe other classes should see the error of their ways. The Importance of Being Earnest expresses this class conflict by way of multiple interactions; including Lady Bracknell versus Jack Worthing, Lady Bracknell versus Cecily Cardew, and Cecily versus Gwendolen Fairfax.

    In Act One of Wilde’s play, Jack Worthing wishes to marry a young Gwendolen Fairfax, the proclaimed love of his life. The only thing that is left to do is to gain her mother’s blessing. When the two meet, Jack is interviewed by Lady Bracknell; however, Jack’s origins seem to cause Lady Bracknell a great deal of displeasure. During this era, heritage and family lines are very important, so as to ensure no drop in social status for the higher class party. Upon finding out where Jack was found as a child, in a handbag, Lady Bracknell is almost immediately perturbed. Also, without proper knowledge of his parents, Jack is seen as being inappropriate to marry Gwendolen.

    Lady Bracknell makes him aware of just that in saying she will not allow Gwendolen to “marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel” (qtd. in The Norton Anthology, vol. E 1745). Even though Jack has money, he “lacks a “name”, that is, a respectable family name to which Lady Bracknell can connect her daughter for social purposes” (enotes.com) Until Jack finds some relations, preferably of high social class, Lady Bracknell naturally feels entitled to treat him as a low class citizen, to her, he is beneath her social status.

    Similarly, Lady Bracknell continues to have a pompous attitude toward lower class members in her relationship with Jack’s ward, Cecily Cardew. Cecily represents the “Bourgeois society of London” (writerrhiannon), in that she has money, but no lineage, due to a lack of parents; much like Jack.

    She lives in the country which gives her a very common and unpolished reputation in the eyes of the more pretentious characters, especially Lady Bracknell. Lady Bracknell repeatedly shows her disapproval of Cecily’s lineage in asking Jack if she “is at all connected with any of the larger railway stations in London” (qtd. in The Norton Anthology, vol. E 1770). Obviously, lineage is extremely important to Lady Bracknell, no matter who she is referring to.

    Lady Bracknell’s influence is a large part of this next interaction. Gwendolen Fairfax is “confident, worldly, and at home in the big city of London” (cliffsnotes.com). Her mother has taught her to be myopic when it comes to people of lower classes. Cecily, on the otherhand, is introduced to us in a garden setting; she is the product of a more sheltered and less-sophisticated environment. Upon their meeting, Gwendolen asks Cecily if she can look at her with her lorgnette.

    This instrument is used by Wilde as a symbol for the eye of society; through the lorgnette, Gwendolen can judge Cecily in the way that the upper class judge the lower. When arguing over who is actually engaged to Earnest, Gwendolen attempts to upstage Cecily’s announcement of her engagement being in the newspaper by stating that hers will be in the “Morning Post”. The “Morning Post” is a more high class newspaper than the county paper that Cecily would have her announcement be in. This act of one-upping is “not only done to show Cecily that she is who Earnest is truly engaged to but, to also show Cecily that she considers herself to be of a higher class” (writerrhiannon).

    The Importance of Being Earnest brings light to the social divisions in Victorian London via various interactions among the characters of different social classes. Lady Bracknell makes her opinion on those without proper lineage (Jack and Cecily) by considering them of a completely different class than she; and her daughter Gwendolen was raised to be nearly just as pretentious.

    During this time, the wealthier people with wealthy lineages saw themselves as upon a higher horse than everyone else. They had a great deal of pretense and pride and were busy maintaining the status quo; therefore, they squashed any signs of rebellion and looked down upon the less fortunate. Wilde confronts the stereotyping of classes in a humorous way with his play, opening up room for discussion of the very prominent social class division of the time.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    The Conflict Among Social Classes in the Play “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde. (2023, Mar 12). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/the-conflict-among-social-classes-in-the-play-the-importance-of-being-earnest-by-oscar-wilde/

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