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Themes

The Importance of Being Earnest reveals the differences between the behavior of the upper class and that of the lower class. Members of the upper class display a great deal of pride and pretense, feeling that they are inherently entitled to their wealth and higher social position. They are so preoccupied with maintaining the status quo that they quickly squash any signs of rebellion. In this play, Wilde satirizes the arrogance and hypocrisy of the aristocracy. The lower classes in Earnest are less pretentious and more humble, but equally good at making jokes.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. Which character is the ultimate symbol of the aristocracy? Who is the symbol of a lower class? How does the former character treat the latter? What does this reveal about the aristocracy?
  2. Compare the relationship of Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen to that of Jack and Cecily. Which pair has more trust between them? What does this say about family relationships in difference classes?
  3. How do lower classes imitate the aristocracy? In daily life, what does Jack do to make himself more acceptable to Lady Bracknell? How about Cecily?
  4. What is Wilde’s attitude towards the aristocracy? Does he admire or make fun of them?

Chew on This

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

Although many of Wilde’s characters in Earnest are aristocrats, he ultimately parodies the upper class’s pride and pretension.

By imitating and trying to marry into the aristocracy, Jack is a hypocrite and a traitor to his own class.

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