The morals of the Victorian Era gained renown for their strict socials roles that existed for both men and women. However, Oscar Wilde rejected these morals as he not only wrote characters but also acted as a character who flippantly disregarded the strict moral code. In his play The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde elicits a thoughtful laughter through the constant hypocrisy and non-sequitous behaviours of Lady Bracknell. Wilde uses her to explore the hypocrisy that he detested within Victorian Society, and through Lady Bracknell’s commentary on gender roles and marital roles, Wilde illustrates his own personal contentions with Victorian morals.
In the first act and the first appearance of Lady Bracknell, Jack receives a thorough interview from Lady Bracknell regarding his social status to validate his worth as a suitor to Lady Bracknell’s daughter, Gwendolyn. Lady Bracknell questions Jack concerning his smoking habits, and when Lady Bracknell learns that he smokes, she replies with: “I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is” (Wilde 45). The immediate humor of her response occurs due to Non-Sequitous logic she employs in that she regards smoking as an occupation. However, beyond the humor her diction reveals a Victorian view on gender relations since she only uses the words “man” and “men” indicating that she only objects to idleness in men. This attitude reflects the Victorian morals of the time but appears ironic since she and her daughter act as idle figures throughout the play, only talking and taking no action of their own. Additional, irony occurs in the statement that “a man should always have an occupation” since Jack in his r…
…e acts as a social construct since she details her own rise to riches as a result of marriage, but society ignores the larger significance of marriage: procreation. This major aspect never receives any attention from either Lady Bracknell or Victorian society due to a cultural taboo. Wilde uses her views on marriage to illustrate the fundamental perversion of the Victorian matrimonial ideal since it uses marriage as a social construct while ignoring the sexual construct.
Lady Bracknell, as a character, acts as a caricature of Victorian society and morality, and when her views aspects of gender relations and matrimonial relations receive inspection, her true significance appears. Wilde intends to evoke laughter through her extremely strict and antiquated morals, but at a deeper level, he seeks to attack any system of rigid morals that often plague societies.