A recurring theme in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is the hypocriticaltendencies of those in the Upper-class Victorian Society. Wilde uses puns,paradoxical situations and inversions to expose the hypocritical tendencies. Thiscan be seen in the way Jack lives a “double-life” and Algernon’s use of aninvalid friend. While trying to get his cigarette case back from Algernon, Jackadmits “In order to get up to town I have always pretended to have a youngerbrother of the name of Ernest, who lives in Albany, and gets into the mostdreadful scrapes.
” Essentially Jack is trying to hold up this reputation thathe is a respectable Victorian Gentleman but creates an almost “alter ego” so thathe may throw his morals out the window and have fun. Algernon, not any lesshypocritical of his “gentlemanly” persona, creates a fake friend, Bunbury, sothat he may get out of social situations he doesn’t want to be apart of. The liesthese two men inflict show the hypocrisy in their personalities. In addition to the characters that lie, thereare characters who often say or do one thing but tend mean or do something else.Gwendolen says”In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.” Tosomeone with morals, “sincerity” would be of more importance than “style” soGwendolen’s inversion of these words is extremely silly. Another backwardscharacter is Lady Bracknell who at first does not think Cecily is worthy ofbeing married to Algernon.
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However, once Lady Bracknell realizes that Cecily comesfrom a wealthy background she immediately approves and encourages therelationship between Cecily and Algernon. Ironically, she does not approve ofJack for her daughter Gwendolyn even though money alone was enough for her toapprove of the match between Algernon and Cecily.Later in the play Lady Bracknell claims to disapproveof “mercenary marriages” but also exclaims “When I married Lord Bracknell I hadnot fortune of any kind.
But I never dreamed of allowing that to stand in myway.” This only exposes her hypocritical personality even further. LadyBracknell’s hypocritical state of mind towards marriage is very ironic andgives more insight into the confusing idea of Victorian social morals. Dr. Chausible’s opinion on marriage also invertsin a matter of seconds, similarly to Lady Bracknell.
He does not agree with the idea of marriagesimply because “Primitive Church did not condone marriage” however by the endof the play it seems he will marry Miss Prism. Through such inversions andironic situations Wilde brings up the hypocrisy of Victorian social norms in The Importance of Being Earnest.