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In plays, authors can use dramatic techniques and conventions to entertain audiences, and to

offer commentary on social issues of their time. The Importance of Being Earnest, written by
Oscar Wilde in ., uses a vast majority of writing techniques such as paradox and satire
through characters speech, to expose the social conventions of the Victorian period. Ernest
Worthing, a wealthy upperclass man from the country has come to visit his friend Algy, and
propose to Algys cousin, Gwendolen. They soon find out that each of them have been living
another life; Ernests real name being Jack, and Algy who escapes to the country using the
name Bunbury. The two men soon find out the troubles of having dual identities, and end up
having fiancs who are in love with the wrong people! Oscar Wilde is different from many of the
century writers, and focuses more on dialogue than character and wit. Wilde uses
dramatic techniques to expose social conventions, such as marriage, class and morality.
Dramatic techniques and conventions are used through characters speech to portray Oscar
Wildes view on the value of marriage. The Importance of Being Earnest is set in the late
nineteenth century, and the story is centred amongst people who are, by most standards,
wealthy. In these upperclasses, marriage was looked at from a financial point of view, more
than a romantic one. Today in our society, marriage is a symbol of love for another person, and
commitment to them for the rest of their lives. Oscar Wilde uses parody, epigrams and satire
through characters such as Algy and Lady Bracknell to expose the Victorian upperclass
peoples attitudes towards marriage. In chapter one of the play, Ernest tells Algy: I am in love
with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her. (p.3) Ernest values love
and marriage the same way that we do now, as an act of love and commitment to another. Algy
replies: I thought you had come up for pleasure? ... I call that business. He also says later on
that: Divorces are made in heaven. (p.3) Algy is a typical upperclass man, who only marries
for money and personal gain. Algernon does not believe marriage is founded on love, and
says: The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her if she is pretty, and to
someone else if she is plain. (p.21) In our society today, marriage is a holy sacrament, and the
Catholic Church does not believe that men and women should not participate in any sexual
relationships before they are fully committed to each other in marriage. Algy doesnt care about
the value of religion and true morals, and sees marriage as a way of gaining personal pleasure.
In Chapter two, Algernon pays a visit to Jacks country manor, as Ernest. He meets Cecily, and
immediately falls in love with her. He says: Cecily, ever since I first looked upon your wonderful
and incomparable beauty, I have dared to love you wildly, passionately, devotedly, hopelessly
(p.39) He then asks her to marry him. This statement from Algy is over exaggerated and ironic
to what he said earlier about marriage being a matter of business and not being romantic at all.
Another character in the play that portrays the wrong attitude towards marriage is Lady
Bracknell. In Chapter one, Lady Bracknell witnesses her daughter being proposed to by Jack.
She sees the romance in this proposal, and completely dismisses it. She says: When you do
become engaged to someone, I or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of
the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as
the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself. (p.15)
Lady Bracknell is the typical upperclass lady, whose only desire in a real marriage is to marry a
man of wealth and business. She keeps a notebook with her at all times, with the names of
eligible bachelors in the area for her daughter. She questions Jack about his income, whether
he smokes or not, and whether he knows anything or nothing at all. Jack replies with the right
answers; that he knows nothing, he smokes and he earns a good amount of money on
investments. Lady Bracknell thinks that a good occupation for men is smoking. This statement
is an epigram, and shows the absurdity of upperclass women and their values and attitudes
towards marriage. In Chapter three, Lady Bracknell hears of the marriage between Algy and
Cecily, and she asks Cecily to present her profile, and see whether there are distinct social

possibilities for her. She finally accepts her as being good enough to enter into an upperclass
status, and tells Algy that she is: Not in favour of long engagements. They give people the
opportunity of finding out each others character before marriage, which I think is never
advisable. (p.60) Oscar Wilde used a great deal of writing techniques such as paradox, satire
and irony in this play to emphasise the absurdity of the upperclass people, and their attitude
towards marriage. Today, when people read The Importance of Being Earnest, they can giggle
at the silliness of the Victorian upperclass, and laugh at how they used to act. When it was first
published, the play could have been an eye opener to some people, and had the potential to
change the way they thought about some of the most important issues in life. This is how Oscar
Wilde used dramatic techniques and conventions to respond to the important social issues of
Writing techniques are used in this play to expose the ludicrousness of the Victorians attitude
towards class. In the Victorian period, the city or town was divided into a hierarchy; with the
monarchy on top, followed by the upperclass people, the wealthy people, the working class
people, and the servants. The world was a well ordered place in which Queen Victoria ruled the
British Empire, and the British Empire ruled the world. The characters in The Importance of
Being Earnest take their position as upperclass members for granted, and there is a good deal
of snobbery and attitude in their behaviour. Oscar Wilde made these characters to mimic the
attitudes and arrogance of the upperclass people of his time. Some of the characters who show
these absurd attitudes are Lady Bracknell and Algy. Lady Bracknell is completely oblivious to
the way she acts throughout the whole play, and expects everyone to look up to her, as she
looks down her nose at them. When she is questioning Jack on how well he would suit her
daughter, she asks him about his father. She says: Did he born in what the Radical papers call
the purple of commerce, or did he rise from the ranks of the aristocracy? (p.17) Lady Bracknell
will not let her daughter marry someone who does not have any parents, especially ones who
are not higher or at the same level as them on the hierarchy. She says earlier on to Jack: The
whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate,
education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper
classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square. (p.16) Lady Bracknell
thinks that the lower classes will someday wake up and realise the way that the upperclasses
have been treating them, and take over. This is satire, and makes the readers who arent in the
upperclass wonder whether this is true or not. Lady Bracknell also says: (after asking Jack if he
owns any land,) A girl like Gwendolen can hardly be expected to reside in the country. (p.16)
She believes that the town is a great place for people of the upperclass to live, because more
people can see them and she can look down her nose at them. With the additional number of
people there, there are more people to admire her, and she would feel more important in a
place where she is surrounded by working class people. This attitude is one of the selfish
attitudes that Oscar Wilde was trying to expose in his play. Another character in the play who
comments on the value of class is Algy. Algy is an idle snob, who doesnt do anything
productive at all. After talking to his servant, he says to himself: If the lower orders dont set us
a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem as a class to have no sense of
moral responsibility. (p.2) This statement is extremely ironic, because the upperclass are
meant to be the ones setting the good example, and here is Algy, siting around having tea
parties, not even earning any income. The servant is the one with a job, earning dignity and
respect, and who has moral responsibility, not Algy. This statement is also a good example of
absurdity of the Victorian upperclasses, and this is what Oscar Wilde was trying to expose to
his audience. Much of this plays wit is directed at the hypocrisy of the upperclass people, and
their obliviousness to what they really look like to the rest of the world. Class is a construction
of society reflecting certain values and attitudes. It is the rank or order of society in relation to

means of production. It is ironic that Algy, Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell and Jack are in this
class, as they do not work at all and are anxious to be fashionable and witty, but not intellectual
and serious. These examples are another way in which literary devices are used in this play to
help respond to important social issues of the Victorian period.
Dramatic conventions such as satire, farce and paradox are used in plays to show the authors
viewpoint on social issues and themes. The Importance of Being Earnest challenges the ideals
and morals of the way upperclass members live their lives, and when it was first published,
should have awakened them to the way they act. In the play, the upperclass people do not
value anything serious, such as love and family, but more food and wealth. Although The
Importance of Being Earnest entertains readers with its dramatic techniques and conventions,
it also shows the trivial manners and values of the Victorian period, which can be adapted into
our lives today.

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