Feminism in Victorian Era
Under the rule of Queen Victoria, the place of the woman was mostly limited within the domestic level; this is due to the viewpoint that domesticity and motherhood was viewed as being adequate for the emotional fulfillment of the woman. This implied that women influence in the public sphere was limited (Shmoop Editorial Team Para. 8). The Victorian era is usually described as the domestic age, which was epitomized under the rule of Queen Victoria, which resulted to marital stability and the establishment of domestic virtue. In the light of these circumstances, a number of classics literatures idolized the feminism during this period, while others presented their own views relating to the roles of women beyond the domestic and motherhood limits. One of such literatures includes the play “The importance of being earnest” by Oscar Wilde, which is one of the most famous plays that debuted in London during 1895. The play served to indicate a modern understanding of the mercurial nature of names and identity, marriage, and the nature of relationships between men and women in the modern world. The dominance of women in the play indicates the Wilde’s views towards feminism (Shmoop Editorial Team Para. 10). This paper analyses how the feminism of the Victorian Era relates to the play “The importance of being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde. The paper elaborates on the main feminists in the play such as Lady Blackwell, Gwendolen, Cecily and Miss Prism. The paper also discusses the issue between marriage and the importance of name and identity.
Among the most notable themes in the play is the issue of marriage, in the sense that whether marriage is considered as pleasurable or viewed as a restrictive social duty of the woman. In the wider perspective, people from the older generation are of the opinion that marriage is somewhat a means to an end, which is used in the maintaining of social position. If an individual wants to get married, one must submit to an interrogation, which may include stating one’s name, rank and the serial number (David 108). The number that is of ultimate significance in this case is the level of income; this implies that is necessary to have a bank. It is also important to have a respectable and acceptable title and the corresponding parents to prove the title. The youngsters who are depicted as hot-blooded in the play are more interesting in love. This is one of the significant ironies in the play, which makes it satirical towards the feminism in the Victorian feminist. At the end of the play, there is no one who breaks the rules in the sense that they marry the exact kind of persons of their wishes. The difference in the valuation of marriage by the older generation and the new generation as depicted in the play is also an indicator of the irony in the play and serves as satire to the feminism in the Victorian society. This was not the case in the Victorian society due to the fact that marriage was viewed as a form of attaining of social status, which is not the case depicted in the play whereby the younger generation are marrying for the sake of love.
Gender roles depicted in the play can also be used in ascertaining its relationship with the feminism during the Victorian era. In the play, the question of the role of each gender lays emphasis on power. In relation to the Victorian society of the play, men have been depicted to have stronger influence compared to the women. This is because the men are in charge of making the political decisions within the households while women are involved in the domestic chores within the family set up and taking good care of the children. Men are usually valued basing on their intelligence and judgment; women on the other hand are valued basing on their attractiveness, beauty and chastity. In the play, Wilde poses a number of questions regarding to the roles of the genders in the society, this is evident by his placing of women such as Lady Bracknell in power positions and depicting irresponsibility and poor decision making by men such as Jack and Algernon. This denotes the satirical nature of the play in relation to the feminism of the Victorian era (David 104).
Main feminists in the play
Various characters in the play help in the development of the major themes of the play, especially in relation to Wilde’s depiction of feminism in relation to the Victorian era. Lady Bracknell Alone is one of the feminist characters in the play, who Wilde uses to depict the variation in gender roles and the capacity of woman to function within the constraints imposed by domesticity. Every character in the play has a partner except for Lady Bracknell, who is used by Wilde to symbolize the Victorian ethic. This makes her the most overbearing and powerful personality in The Importance of Earnest. Lady Bracknell’s demand for Jack to look for a good family played an integral role in setting the pace for the play. Her decisions are precise and always sticks to them, for instance she maintained her decision of no marriage. The society depicted in the play is somewhat closed and Lady Bracknell has given herself the responsibility of watching and judging the youngsters irrespective of the fun that they are having. Lady Bracknell is also depicted as symbol of the upper class in Britain, and she is involved in passing down the rules and traditions to younger generations. Lady Bracknell the judge can be argued to be a no non-sense woman, as evident when administering judgments. For instance, she tells Jack that he is not on his list of young men who are eligible. Lady Bracknell is also portrayed as the protector of the great and good associated with the Victorian society.
Another feminist character in the play by Oscar Wilde is Miss Prism, who is depicted as the heroine of the Victorian era. Miss Prism is given the role of an educator, which she holds seriously and dearly. Miss Prism is unmarried in a Victorian society, whereby marriage is taken seriously, she focuses on her job as an educator as her identity. Miss Prism job helps her in attaining some status in the society and makes use of flashy vocabulary to emphasize on her status on the society (David 104).
Another feminist character in the play that Wilde uses in comparison with the Victorian era is Cecily Cardew. Algernon is attracted to Cecily because her simplicity. She is not depicted as being intellectual as Gwendolen, as evident all her attempts to avoid being educated by Miss Prism. Cecily is also depicted as innocent and waits for the time that the Ernest will avail himself and propose to her. The determination and the wits of Cecily in entering the London society in the place of Algernon’s wife depict the nature of feminism in the Victorian era. Her relationship with Algernon also denotes the nature of the relationship between men and woman; ironically, Algernon fell in love with the eccentric behavior and attitude of Cecily as the right girl for him. This is not the case for the Victorian society.
Gwendolen Fairfax is also another feminist character in the play that Wilde uses to depict the satirical nature of the play in relation to the feminism during the Victorian era. Gwen and Cecily have significant things in common such as the Ernest thing, which serves as the guiding principles for their lives. They view their Christian names as an insuperable barrier. In addition, the contrast with the Victorian tradition is evident by the fact Gwen is willing to do anything for whatever they want. Oscar uses the similarity between Gwen and Cecily to satirize the Victorian society that played an integral role in producing women with characteristics like theirs; something which is not derived from the individuals themselves.
In conclusion, it is arguably evident that Oscar Wilde makes uses of imagery to satirize the elements of the Victorian society. For instance, the imagery that is developed by the Jack and Algernon serves to indicate the deceit associated with the Victorian era. On a similar account, feminist characters such as Lady Bracknell symbolizes the greater good associated with the feminism of the Victorian society.
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