Go back to the Wilde page for more texts and other resources.

Wilde's View On Society

A GCSE/AS level essay, looking at the use of language throughout the play in connection to his views on society.

Wilde?s Views of Society Through the Use of Language Throughout the Play:

By looking at Wilde?s use of language, it is obvious that he believed people hid their trivial lifestyles by creating an earnest image for themselves, and leading double lives. This strong opinion can be seen primarily through the character?s hypocritical, superficial and absurd mannerisms, creating an exaggerated mirror image of what he believed society to be. Each character?s individual voice, tone, manner and attitude are portrayed through Wilde?s use of language. It is through the characters that his opinions are presented.
The characters absurd, flamboyant and pretentious qualities are put forward through the nonsensical, yet elegantly spoken things they say, their outrageous behaviour and the absurd complexities that arouse. Each character conveys an exaggerated reflection of the qualities of people during Wilde?s time.
An example of a nonsensical quote is when Algernon exclaims to Jack, ?I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them?, a completely illogical, pointless thing to say and other examples are riddled throughout the entire play, which emphasises the idea that people of Wilde?s time would, like Algernon, hold strong opinions on pointless subjects.
When Jack puts out his hand to take a sandwich, Algernon steps in quickly and says, ?Please don?t touch the cucumber sandwiches. They are ordered especially for Aunt Augusta?, and takes one himself, it is a perfect example of outrageous behaviour. This was another view of Wilde that he emphasised throughout the play. Although, it would never be so blindly obvious in reality, we see that Algernon?s behaviour is rude and very selfish. This representation is a mirror image of the upper-classes attitude that Wilde firmly disapproved of.
?? if the lower orders don?t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility?. This quote from Algernon portrays Wilde?s view that the upper class society were very conscious about the different classes. The reference to the ?lower orders? as ?they? proves that they believed themselves to be completely unrelated to one another, and thoughts opposing this opinion were frowned upon in disgust. This quote is ironic, as being the ?higher class? they should ideally be setting the ?lower orders? a good example, yet in Wilde?s view it can be seen quite literally, as the higher class really did not set a good example and it was the ?lower orders? who did.

This dialogue between Algernon and Jack was the way in which Wilde believed that the society dealt with love and marriage, as if the two did not go together.

Jack: I am in love with Gwendolen, I have come up to town expressly to propose to her.
Algernon: I thought you had come up for pleasure? ? I call that business.
Using a comic device of reversal of expectations, Wilde covers the reality of the remark with humour, and once again it is not taken seriously.
?More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn?t read,? this quote made by Algernon criticises censorship and its abundant use throughout society. It is portrayed through the use of tone, since what is written is actually Wilde?s opinion and thus a factual statement, but within the context and Algernon?s witty, playful sense of humour, we assume it is a joke.

Jack: You are quite perfect, Miss Fairfax.
Gwendolen: Oh! I hope I am not that. It would leave no room for developments, and I intend to develop in many directions.
Wilde uses a pun on ?to develop in many directions?, as it could either mean that Gwendolen hopes to develop her character to perfection or that she hopes to marry. Consequently Wilde?s belief that society revolved around proposing and getting married is hinted and is reinforced as this theme of marriage and romance recurs many times throughout the play.
Epigrams such as, ?All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That?s his? and aphorisms such as, ?Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven?t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die?, spoken by Algernon, are both uses of language that all imply Wilde?s views on different aspects of life, including his views on the shamefulness of society. Its humour lies in the sarcastic tone and context that it is made in and its perfectly phrased structure adds a sense of balance to emphasise its neatness.
Among epigrams and aphorisms, Wilde uses paradoxes such as,

?It is always painful to part from people whom one has known for a very brief space of time. The absence of old friends once can endure with equanimity. But even a momentary separation from anyone to whom, one has just been introduced is almost unbearable?,
which imply Wilde?s views on society by over exaggerating and elaborating opinions that Wilde wishes to present, emphasising their nonsensical ideas.
The play is accepted through Wilde?s clever ability of wit. Ironically, as the society of his time masked their true personalities by being earnest, he masks the strong views found in the play with wit and humour. He does so by using a farce and burlesque method as opposed to a subtle hinting approach, as he saw that it had much more freedom and allowed him to stretch the limits of acceptability without being too obvious. By using this wit, people assume not to take it seriously. Consequently he had no strong objection from the public, to something seemingly fun and playful.

Authors | Quotes | Digests | Submit | Interact | Store

Copyright © Classics Network. Contact Us