The Institution of Marriage in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” and Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles”

Oscar Wilde vigorously attacks the institution of heterosexual marriage in his play “The Importance of Being Earnest” by employing light comedy in order to portray characters that are shallow, immature, and oblivious about the commitment into which they are about to enter. Marriage is also harshly critiqued in Susan Glaspell’s play “Trifles,” a play that explores the hardships that women must face within the institution of marriage and the tragedy that befalls one woman pushed past her breaking point. Both plays are harshly critical of the institution of marriage, one through light satirical comedy and the other through a tragic story about a failed marriage. However, the somber impact of the more realistic story within “Trifles” provides a more harsh understanding of the institution of marriage than does the comedy, which its audience can easily laugh off.

In Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” the characters treat marriage as something frivolous. What they do treat as important are esoteric social norms, connotations of names, and trivial details. Cecily and Gwendolyn only want to marry Algernon and Jack because they believe that their names are Ernest. As Gwendolyn says to Jack early in the play, “…My ideal has always...

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