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Themes

In The Importance of Being Earnest, the question of each gender’s role in society often centers on power. In the Victorian world of this play, men have greater influence than women. Men make the political decisions for their families, while women work around the house, quietly taking care of the children. Men are valued for their intellect and judgment, while women are attractive to men for their beauty and chastity. However, Wilde raises interesting questions about gender roles in The Importance of Being Earnest, by putting women (like Lady Bracknell) in positions of power and by showing that men (i.e., Jack and Algernon) can be irresponsible and bad at decision-making.

Questions About Gender

  1. Based on their behavior towards Gwendolen and Cecily, what do Jack and Algernon value in women? How do the women’s vanity add to this?
  2. In contrast, what do Lady Bracknell and other respectable figures like Miss Prism value in men? How is this the same or different from what society values in women?
  3. How do the major women in the play – Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen, and Cecily – reverse traditional gender roles? In contrast, how do they adhere to them?
  4. How might Lady Bracknell’s background and her history with Miss Prism mold her into a powerful figure that completely overshadows Lord Bracknell?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In Earnest, figures like Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen, and Cecily reverse gender role stereotypes by exercising power and control over the opposite sex.

Although the female characters in Earnest exercise power briefly, they also conform to many female stereotypes – ultimately ensuring that the play upholds traditional gender stereotypes instead of challenging or changing them.

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