The concept of marriage has been given preeminence in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. In the play, marriage is discussed in the context of plot progression and as a subject for theoretical assumption and discussion. All throughout the play, the concept of marriage is present thus demonstrating the importance that the society accorded this matter. Although there are varying views on the subject among various characters, it is evident from reading the play that the marriage institution was held in high esteem at that time.
While there is a division on whether marriage is pleasant or unpleasant, all the characters agree that marriage is an important part of life. (Wilde 5) In order to underscore the importance of marriage, the subject is introduced in the opening part of the play in a discussion between Algernon and his servant, Lane, and once the subject is introduced, it becomes a recurring concept in the entire play. When the subject is first introduced, the butler insinuates that married households usually lack a sense of taste to a point where they cannot purchase “first rate” champagne. In contrast, the butler observes that the champagne in a bachelor establishment is of a higher quality and that is the reason why servants tend to over drink. This makes Algernon to wonder if marriage has become so demoralizing to a point where people lack a sense of taste. Despite the butler’s failed marriage, he still thinks that marriage is a pleasant experience that anyone should endeavor to have. (Wilde 6) Although Algernon does not make his views known regarding marriage during the conversation with his butler, we get to know his thoughts on the subject in a monologue where he claims that marriage is an institution that has “absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.
” (Wilde 5) In the ensuing conversation with Jack, Algernon thoughts on marriage clearly come out on the surface. During the pleasantries, Jack claims that he decided to travel from the country to town purposely for pleasure. As the conversation with Algernon continues, Jack claims that he has come to propose to Gwendolen the girl he has been flirting with.
This throws his friend Algernon aback since he believes that a proposal is more of a business venture than pleasure. According to him, marriage simply kills the excitement of being in love and leads to uncertainty. (Raby 26) In fact, Algernon has such a negative mentality on marriage to a point where he vows to “forget the fact” that he is married the moment he does so. This mentality according to Jack is what led to the formation of Divorce Courts but Algernon disagrees and claims, “Divorces are made in Heaven.
” (Wilde 7) In defending his position, Algernon claims that most married people do not value their marriages and most of them are even capable of flirting with other men while their husbands are sitting right across the dinner table. Although Algernon is opposed to the idea of his first cousin Gwendolen getting married to Jack, he advices him that he will have to lie occasionally in order to be able to get away from his wife. This clearly shows that Algernon thinks that all marriages are unpleasant an opinion that Jack and Lane do not share. (Raby 28) On her part, Lady Bracknell addresses the issue of marriage by claiming, “An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be.” By looking at the set of questions that Lady Bracknell subjects Jack to, it is clear that she has a distorted view on the nature and rationale of marriage. By looking at the list of bachelors and the prepared script that Lady Bracknell addresses Jack from, it is apparent that the Victorian society on which the story is based viewed marriage in terms of social standing, income and character of the participants. Indeed Lady, Bracknell does not seem to have respect for the marriage institution and that is why she tries to pair Algernon with Mary who is already married. (Wilde 11) Although Algernon is cynical about the marriage institution and thinks that people’s opinion on marriage are “somewhat lax,” his views on marriage and divorce change once he meets and falls in love with Cecily.
On his part, Jack is a romantic who believes that having the right attitude towards marriage is the ingredient that makes it last. Although he believes the truth “isn’t quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl,” (Wilde 91) he ends up telling Gwendolen the truth once he realizes that it is not in his nature to lie. Once Jack apologizes to Gwendolen, her reaction becomes a clear pointer that she was also cynical about men and the marriage institution in general. (Wilde 148)
The concept of marriage is a subject that the writer of The Importance of Being Earnest has dwelt on in his play. All throughout the play, Oscar Wilde has brought out the nature of marriage in the Victorian society. The characters are divided in the middle among those who believe that marriage is pleasant and those who believe that it is unpleasant.
Even among those who believe marriage is unpleasant, something happens at the end that restores their faith in love and the marriage institution as a whole.
Raby, Peter. The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde, 1997. Cambridge University Press. 25-41. Print.
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, 1899. L. Smithers, 5-149. Print.