What Are Gender Roles In The Importance Of Being Earnest

Decent Essays
The Importance of Being Earnest is one of Oscar Wilde’s crowning masterpieces. The acclaimed comedic play tells the tale of Jack Worthing and the mischief he causes when he and his best friend, Algernon Moncrieff, assume double identities. When analyzing the play from various critical perspectives, the reader can divulge into the various historical roots and gender roles that the author uses to promote his message and criticize the Victorian upper class.

Evaluating the play from a historical critical perspective offers a retrospective look into the various references the play makes to Victorian England. The Victorian Era of England is typically defined as the period in which Queen Victoria reigned as monarch. “The Victorian period
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Perhaps the most overarching gender roles throughout the play are those associated with courting. Both Gwendolyn and Cecily are convinced that they could not be with someone who’s name isn’t Ernest. Gwendolyn tells Jack this in Act I. “I have known several Jacks, and they all, without exception, were more than usually plain. The only really safe name is Ernest’” (Wilde 20). Cecily again reiterates a similar message to Algernon in Act III. ‘”You must not laugh at me, darling, but it had always been a girlish dream of mine to love someone whose name was Ernest. There is something in that name that seems to inspire absolute confidence. I pity any poor married woman whose husband is not called Ernest’” (Wilde 61). Both Gwendolyn and Cecily are convinced that Ernest is the optimal name for a partner due in large part to the qualities that society perceives from it. It is in this aspect of their attractiveness to the name that both characters reflect the gender roles of courting to satisfy society rather than themselves. They both like the name Ernest not because they themselves enjoy it but rather because they enjoy how society interprets it and how it makes them look. “Men and women searched for an ideal relationship based on the expectations of a demanding society. If a man or woman did not possess the qualities desired by the Victorian society, the opposite sex may have dismissed the person as an unsuitable mate” (Appell). Both men and women were expected to court those who fit society’s expectations, not their own, and this gender role is present in the play. Another gender stereotype present is patriarchal authority and superiority. Throughout the Victorian Era, men were valued more than women. The man was the head of the household and their word was final. This is very much present throughout much of the
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