Essay on Gender Roles in 'The Importance of Being Earnest'

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Have you ever thought of what It would’ve been like to exist in an earlier era? A society riddled with inequality; where individuals were expected to have certain qualities, and if not, considered unworthy. In The Importance of Being Earnest, written by the famous Oscar Wilde, he creates a perfect example of an era that was turned upside down with such absurd ideologies. He constructs characters based on unrealistic traits from the Victorian Century, in which the traditional attributes of both males and females are reversed. He addresses’ various amount of issues between men and women in class and gender while utilizing satirical situations to ridicule the concepts of the Victorian era. It was a hopeless romance back in the Victorian era, and Wilde represented this by creating the characters Cecily and Gwendolen with a typical girlish fantasy to fall intensely in ‘love’ with Earnest. This name was purposely used since it correlated with seriousness and sincerity. It was made into a pun to scorn the ridiculous standards of being upper-class material. He did this to make a melodramatic effect on the non-existent solemn attitude with Jack, who happened to falsely identify himself as an Earnest. Men didn’t hold any of those qualities in the play.

Appearing on page 306 Gwendolen describes the name Earnest as “a divine name. It has music of its own. It produces vibrations.” Wilde uses such dialogue to show how people were meant to be flawless and perfect to be considered marriage-worthy. Wilde effectively refers to the characterization of the unrealistic morals people had over each other. When Jack questions whether Gwendolen would be willing to marry a man without the name of Earnest, he cleverly makes it seem as if Gwendolen wouldn’t be willing to marry a man with no other name. He does this to mock the upper-class society of the Victorian era since they were so judgemental. Gwendolen says on page 306 “My ideal has always been to love someone of the name Earnest.” Once they find out about the lies both men have been telling, their ideal is destroyed and they feel as though they’ve been deceived. Wilde ensures this to show the Victorian era should’ve lowered their standards of judgment.

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Women play a significant role in the play that creates amusing entertainment. Wilde embodies women not as the inferior, but as the paternal, dominant gender whilst men are represented as the frail ones. He accomplishes this to mock how the Victorian decade symbolized many faults in gender equality. Cecily and Gwendolen no longer are overpowered, instead, they act as if they rule over the men. He does this to mimic how the world in the Victorian era had the world revolved around men. On page blah, Algernon proposes to Cecily hesitantly only for her to feed him the information that they have been engaged for approximately three months. He’s utterly baffled, unaware of the situation. Wilde creates this effect for the female lead to come across as the dominant species by announcing the unknown engagement when it’s naturally a man’s role to adopt. On page blah, Gwendolen says “and certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties, he becomes painfully effeminate”. Gwendolen was admitting that men completed domestic duties which was well known as characteristic of a woman. Wilde portrays that men take on female roles which is demented and successfully shows instantaneous gender switches.

The female roles dominate the speech, making men seem very submissive; especially Jack. On page blah, he says, “I know nothing, Lady Bracknell”. His tone is uneasily quick and gives an impression he’s somewhat edgy, which makes Lady Bracknell’s speech seem rather confident unlike Jack’s. Wilde did this purely because you wouldn’t expect a male role to be easily overpowered by a woman. Another area where Jack is very hesitant to expand on his speech is when Lady Bracknell interrogates him about whether or not he’s suitable for her daughter. This is unusual since it was mainly a man’s job to guarantee whether or not someone was eligible to marry into the family, based on how high the social class they were sitting and their financial matters. Bracknell immediately demonstrates her role of dominant by saying, “You can take a seat, Mr Worthing.” Jack is very hesitant about what he says, giving the impression he doesn’t want to blow a chance of marrying her daughter. He obeys what she says, giving complete control to her. Wilde also did this to emphasize how characteristics of the male gender in the Victorian era were always dominant—but to create a more mocking effect—he gave possession of dominance to the female role.

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Essay on Gender Roles in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. (2024, April 10). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2024, from
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