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How does Oscar Wilde exploit Victorian ideas of good manners to comic effect in the opening of "The Importance of Being Earnest"?

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Introduction

´╗┐The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde - How does Oscar Wilde exploit Victorian ideas of good manners to comic effect in the opening of the play? The opening scene of The Importance of Being Earnest establishes a, unrealistic world in which no one talks the way ordinary people talk and very little seems to matter to anyone. Algernon and Lane, as well as most other characters in the play, are both literary constructs. They have almost no life or significance apart from the way they talk. Their language is sharp, brittle, and full of elegant witticisms and ironic pronouncements. This shows an emphasis on how much it matters on what you say, not who you are, which was uncommon in Victorian times as stature was an important part in having your voice heard. ...read more.

Middle

Algernon shows no more concern over the stealing than Lane does over its having been discovered, and both men seem to take for granted that servants steal from their masters. In the world of the play, the deception is simply an expected daily nuisance. It represents a sort of domesticated battle between the two characters, who are both too polite to one another to broach the subject of misconduct amongst the household and its servants. A central purpose of the scene between Algernon and Lane is to lay the foundation for the joke about the cucumber sandwiches, an incident that marks the first appearance of food as a source of conflict as well as a substitute for other appetites. ...read more.

Conclusion

This idea becomes apparent in the early exchange between Algernon and Jack over the question of whether Jack should eat cucumber sandwiches or bread and butter. Here, Algernon interprets eating as a form of social, even sexual, presumption. Algernon can eat the cucumber sandwiches because he?s Lady Bracknell?s blood relation, but Jack, who hardly knows Lady Bracknell, should stay away from them. Again we see no explicit portrayal of this, due to the emphasis on good manners and the lewdness of the subject itself. When Jack demonstrates too much enthusiasm for the bread and butter, Algernon reproaches him for behaving as though he were ?married to [Gwendolen] already,? as though he had touched her in an aggressive manner. Joe Walker - English - 08/10/13 - Sorry for it being so short, done late at night. ...read more.

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