Victorian Era – Satire in The Importance of Being Earnest

Common themes throughout Victorian Literature tend to be class, wealth, and the general upholding of societal standards. The wealthy, especially, would expect that societal expectation would be taken with seriousness (aka being earnest). However, The Importance of Being Earnest uses satire to expose these expectations and make fun of the up-tightness of the people of the time. In the beginning of the play, Jack and Algernon bicker over how marriage should be viewed. One believes that it is romantic and beautiful, while the other sees it as just business and not pleasant at all. Jack eats bread and butter while Algernon eats cucumber sandwiches.

Their alter egos serve the purpose of allowing the two to escape the vicious structures of decency that they live in. Algernon seems like he wouldn’t be caught dead living like Jack. The things is, Jack finds his way of life reasonable and fair.

I think that the comedic genius within this play is very simple. What the hell does it mean to be sincere, or earnest, anyway? Who’s to set the standards? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, I think is how the saying goes. It’s like calling yourself humble, it just doesn’t work. This play highlights how important it was to people to stay sincere, all the while showing them to be quite the opposite. To be sincere would be to be trivial and quirky.

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