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Wilde Oscar’s book “The Importance of Being Ernest” is a unique drama series set in the Victorian age. One of the most conspicuous themes in Oscar Wilde’s book is feminism. As a result, the plot of the story presents interesting encounters where the author intends to portray the manner in which women were treated in the Victorian society. Several characters in the book, for example, Gwendolyn and Cecily, have been used to illustrate the different circumstances in which women find themselves in a male dominated society. In essence, the women living in this Victorian period were given poor treatment in a chauvinistic society.
In the play, women are given less treatment compared to their male counterparts. Women are essentially assigned roles that are traditionally intended for women. These further points out the existence of a male chauvinistic tendency that appears to have engulfed the playwright’s perspective. In the third act of the play where Jack and Algernon enter, the interaction that takes place Gwendolyn, Cecily, and the two gentlemen clearly shows that the women’s views are not treated as important. This is shown by the manner in which they are ignored by the two gentlemen at the first instance (Wilde 78). This act portrays how women in this society have less freedom.
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The playwright cleverly expresses the juxtaposition between beauty and poor treatment. In the Victorian society, the beauty of a woman is revered by the men, which puts a high price on the women. However, they are still poorly treated. In the first act, the conversation between Jack and Algernon shows how the beauty of a woman can make a man to do things beyond the ordinary. For example, in this counter we see how Jack is willing to eliminate his own brother for the sake of Gwendolyn. He objects “I’m not a Bunburyist at all. If Gwendolyn accepts me, I am going to kill my brother; indeed I think I’ll kill him in any case” (Wilde 12). This can be taken as an act of self denial because he appears to be ready to abandon his family for his wife. From a feminist perspective, this is an important element in that it ensures that women are able to counter the poor treatment from the men. The adoration of the beauty of a woman to the point of killing’s one’s competitor is an interesting factor to feminists because it shows how women are valued by their men despite the way the patriarchal society perceives them.
Wilde uses strong satire in his play to portray the manner in which women were less treated during the Victorian period. Hence, Wilde’s book would greatly attract the attention of feminists in the modern world because of the manner in which it mirrors the current problems affecting women in a male dominated society. Similar to the Victorian era, women living in the modern era face the same struggles of overcoming male egoism, which has transcended the entire society. For example, this can be seen in the encounter between Lady Bracknell where he warns Jack not to see her daughter again (Wilde 81). Despite the warning that Jack had received, he still persisted with his plan of getting married; hence, he ignored Lady Bracknell’s warning.
Feminists would also not admire the belittling of the intellectual capacity of women by removing them from giving them traditionally assigned roles. In the second Act, Miss Prism tells Cecily “Surely such a utilitarian occupation as the watering of flowers is rather Moulton’s duty than yours? Especially at a moment when intellectual pleasures await you” (Wilde 123). Here, Miss Prism is trying to illustrate how women in this society are given the lesser roles to play by their men. This situation reflects the current situation in the modern society in which there are still certain roles that are reserved for men while there are those reserved for women.
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The patriarchal society in the Victorian period looked down upon women as sexual objects. Based on the figurative language used by Wilder, it is evident that in the Victorian society men tended to treat women as sexual objects for satisfying manly pleasure. Miss Prism seems to be a strongly advocate for men who are timely in expressing their marital vows as opposed to waiting for a significant length of time in order to make similar commitments. Miss Prism tells Chasuble “And you do not seem to realize, dear Doctor, that by persistently remaining single, a man converts himself into a permanent public temptation” (Wilde 44). Indeed, this phrase reveals how the element of promiscuity is strongly associated with men such the only hope of freeing them from this blight is marrying. Thus, unknowingly Cecily brings into focus the concept of marriage, which forms a critical component with regard to feminism. Traditionally, marriage has been institutionalised to the point men have attained a domineering tendency towards their spouses, which promotes objectives of a patriarchal society.
However, feminists would strongly dislike the social order is used within the family setting to undermine women. For example, there are certain sections of the play there we witness the social freedom of a woman being limited because of her social background. We can see this when Jack is trying to get some advice on how to make Gwendolyn, but Lady Bracknell appears to be emotionally disconnected to his plight. In this regard, Lady Bracknell responds, “You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter – a girl brought up with the utmost care to marry into a cloakroom, and form an alliance with a parcel? (Wilde 26). Consequently, by uttering these words, she puts it straight that her daughter would only be married to someone of similar social status.
Another element expressed in the book, which feminists would find it hard to subscribe to is Lady Bracknell’s ideology regarding courtship before marriage. From a feminist perspective, courtship forms an important component in developing a health relationship between a man and a woman intending to tie the knot in the near future. Lady Bracknell objects “To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding each other’s character before marriage, which I think is never advisable” (Wilde 86). Here Lady Bracknell’s views appear to be extreme because they discourage the development of good communication.
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Moreover, feminists would strongly dislike the manner in which some of the characters unwittingly elevate the status of the women. For example, Gwendolyn remarks “how absurd to talk of the equality of the sexes! Where questions of self-sacrifice are concerned, men are infinitely beyond us” (Wilder 80). This response comes after he had asked Jack about the extent to which he is willing to go in order to make her happy. Indeed, this is a common trait of men because society has framed to accept commitment. Nevertheless, from a feminist perspective, Gwendolyn’s statement contains some element of satire, but also seems to suggest that the levels of self-sacrifice for both sexes are incomparable. By establishing lesser standards for women, this actually undermines the goals of achieving feminist goals. Finally, it is important to note that the masculine traits given to men do not necessary put them above the women, especially since they are strongly driven society’s patriarchal fundamentals.
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