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ASPECTS OF SOCIETY PORTRAYED IN OSCAR WILDE S PLAY In the late 1890 s, the upper class English society talked in a dignified, proper manner. Everything they said had either a positive or negative effect on their family members, associates, even themselves. Basically it was all a show people put on to remain in the non-scandalous side of society. In The Importance of Being Earnest , the playwright displays the characters in such a way that the stupidity of the upper class language and actions is portrayed through aspects of the play.The differentiation between the upper and lower classes of society was clearly demonstrated through The Importance of Being Earnest . In Victorian times the lower class people were out-casts, considered as nothing and often shunned by the upper class. We see an example of this when we are first introduced to Lane (the butler) and Algernon (the master of the house) when they are discussing family life. Algernon rambles on about his family while Lane listens with patience. As soon as Lane says one thing about his past Algernon won t have a bar of it. I don t know that I am much interested in your family life Lane. Here, Algernon acts as though his family is superior to Lanes, even though he knows nothing about Lane s family. This is just a typical day in the life of an 1890 s butler.The men and women of the Victorian times were not what you could call equal sexes . Women were generally there for the role of child bearing and for a man s pleasure, while the men were the money makers and decision making people of then house. The playwright shows this when Cecely and Gwendolen are talking about equality of the sexes. Gwendolen: Men are infinitely beyond us. Jack replies with a We are! and clasps hands with Algernon. In actual fact, the women of the play and those in the 1890 s could have easily have been up there competing with the men. But chose not too because they would be the scandal of the neighborhood. This is one aspect of society that the play-write has captured perfectly.The way society shaped you in the 1890 s was tremendous. There would have been a terrible amount of pressure on a person to act, think, and do, just as society thought you should. In the play The Importance of Being Earnest the two characters Jack and Algernon invented people so they could pretend to be them. This allowed the two men to escape form society s pressures once in a while. You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up to down as often as you like. This invention of the imaginary friends would have been a very common trait of the men found in Oscar Wilde s time. It was all a perfect excuse to do whatever one pleased, but still be allowed into the upper class.Money was of great importance in those olden days. The amount of money you had, was one of the main factors in determining which class you, as a person, belonged to. We see this importance of money when Lady Brackenell was checking out Cecely s background to see whether or not she was suitable for her young nephew. She had taken no liking to Cecely until she found out how much money she had. A hundred and thirty pounds! And in the funds! Miss Cardew seems to me the most attractive young lady, now that I look at her. It did not matter in those days if you were a nice person or not. Money was the only thing that determined what sort of a person you were. Money was a way of discovering what a person would be like. No money meant automatically that you were shunned and sentenced to be a lower class person. Lots of money meant that you were automatically the highest of the upper class, even if you had the personality of a wet-rat, people still liked you simply because you had money.

The fashion of the times in Queen Victoria s day was forever changing. You had to keep up with these fashions at all times if you wanted to stay in the upper class. Waists like wasps, and brilliant wigs and hats were all part of this fashion. When Lady Brackenell was examining Cecily one of the first things she automatically thought of was what Cecily looked like. We live, I regret to say, in the age of surfaces There are distinct social possibilities in your profile. The words social possibilities is one of the more obvious hints in Wildes play, that everything you wore was scrutinized by society. By society I mean the people of the upper class. In those days the lower class would dare not insult those that belonged to an upper class. If they did they would be punished. For instance, in The Importance of Being Earnest we see that Lane or Merriman would never assault or verbally abuse their masters. Even when put down by those of the upper class they would never retaliate. Cecily has just been discussing matters of no importance when Merriman tells her Ernest has arrived. She makes no effort to thank Merriman and tells him to go get some tea, not asks for it. Cecily: And you can bring tea. Merriman: Yes, miss. Merriman does not ask to be thanked, or protest, he just goes about his usual self, doing things a footman does. In the 1890 s the involvement of the people you socialized with, mattered greatly to your family members and other acquaintances. If you hung around with someone that might have been in a lower class than you, then you were seen as strange and suspicious. There was a certain fear in the air that you might go down to the lower class with them, and bring all your family and other acquaintances with you. In the play, Lady Brackenell was worried about Jack s association with his so-called invalid friend, Bunbury . She fears that some of his bad traits will rub off on Jack and therefore make her look bad in the process. This shallow, selfishness was common in women of Victorian times and was expected by the men. In the end, Oscar Wilde s play The Importance of Being Earnest was a perfect, mocking portrayal of what aspects society really did have in those days. Phony marriages, bad acquaintances, money matters, gender classing, fashion and separation of the classes was all in a days work Queen Victoria and her followers. 17/05/99English Lit Essay1,095 words.

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