The Importance of Being Earnest

How does Wilde mock the mannerisms of the Victorian society by using the technique of wit, satire and inversions?

Just from Act 1

Examples from the act.

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Wilde, through the skeptical Algernon, makes an immediate critique of marriage as "demoralising," and throughout the scene the best bon mots are reserved for mocking that most traditional romantic covenant. Wilde is the master of the epigram, a concise, typically witty or paradoxical saying. His skill lies not only in coining wholly new epigrams, but in subverting established ones. For instance "in married life, three is company and two is none" captures the monotony of monogamy by playing it against the commonplace "two is company, three's a crowd."


Another staple of the play is its humorous depiction of class tensions. Lane, the butler, is given his fair share of droll sayings, and even Algernon seems to recognize that the lower class has more power than they seem to: "If the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?"


The sofa is the center of the leisure class's idleness, a comfortable place to while away the afternoon without work. Wilde himself would spend hours in deep thought upon his sofa, but in this play he makes the sofa a place for social chatter. The cucumber sandwiches also become a motif for the hedonism of rich. Algernon supposedly saves them for Lady Bracknell, but he cannot resist devouring them himself.


Lady Bracknell is a remarkable comic creation, the paragon of the Victorian lady who stresses good breeding above all else. But she is far from a flat stereotype. Wilde gives her some of his wittiest lines to bring out her quirky way of seeing the world, for example one of her most famous pronouncements: "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness." But these lines are always linked to her character; when Jack informs her that he was found in a handbag on the Brighton line, she replies "The line is immaterial." That he was found in a handbag on a train is enough of a black mark on his record, and even the word "immaterial" reminds us that it is Jack's very lack of a material (substantial, or money-related) background that disturbs her so greatly.