The big question The Importance of Being Earnest raises is whether marriage is pleasurable... or a restrictive social duty.
In general, the older generation thinks of marriage as a means to an end, a way of maintaining or bettering your social position. If you want to get married, you submit to an interrogation: "State your name, rank, and serial number." The number that matters in this case, however, is your income; you'd better have bank.
You also need to have an acceptable title, along with the parents to prove it. The hot-blooded youngsters think they are interested in love. One of the huge ironies in the play—and what makes it a satire of Victorian society—is that, in the end, nobody really breaks the rules. They color within the lines, and marry exactly the type of person their society expects them to.
Questions About Marriage
How do Lady Bracknell’s views of marriage compare to Jack’s and Gwendolen’s? What does she value in a marriage? In contrast, what do Jack and Gwendolen want?
What does Algernon think of marriage? Is it business or pleasure to him? Why? And how does Bunbury fit into this?
How do the ladies’ opinions of marriage differ from the men’s? Why are they so adamant that the men propose properly to them? How is this empowering to them?
What does Miss Prism’s discussion of marriage with Dr. Chasuble reveal about her character? Consider Dr. Chasuble’s position as a celibate clergyman.
Chew on This
In The Importance of Being Earnest, Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble challenge the social order by ultimately yielding to marriage based on love instead of marrying for social rank or wealth, as most of the older generation espouses.
In The Importance of Being Earnest, Algernon represents a modern mindset toward marriage because he is skeptical about the happiness of couples in marriage and has fears about committing to one woman—unlike Jack, who holds more traditional nineteenth-century views on marriage.