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How far and in what ways does Oscar Wilde challenge these views on gender in 'The Importance of Being Earnest'?

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The traditional view of gender relations in the Victorian era was that men were active, manly, assertive and economically independent whilst women were assumed to be passive, pliant and dependant. How far and in what ways does Oscar Wilde challenge these views in 'The Importance of Being Earnest'? Oscar Wilde does challenge these traditional roles in the Importance of Being Earnest deliberately to make humour out of these characteristics. In fact most of the intelligent wit that is in the play stems from the fact that the characters are doing or saying something that one wouldn't expect them to say, the opposite of what they are saying is what would be predicted e.g. "Divorces are made in Heaven". Oscar Wilde works in the same way with the characters, none of them are generally what a stereotypical Victorian man or woman would be. The two main male characters, Jack and Algernon, cannot really be regarded as masculine, or at any rate both of them do not fit the criteria for what characteristics a stereotypical Victorian man would be. Algernon is active up to a certain point; he does go away to the country when he becomes bored of the city and so is in charge of his own life. However, without his ability to be deceitful be would complied to go to Lady Bracknell's dinner parties, so really he is ...read more.


and pliable. All these characteristics are those of the ingenue of a comedy of manners, who in fact would normally be female. So, Jack is rather effeminate to own all these characteristics. After examination of Algy and Jack, it can clearly be seen that Wilde has challenged the gender relations of the Victorian era by creating two male characters that by no means come across as masculine. Also, any masculine traits that are present in them are practically eliminated when they, and the audience, are introduced to their future wives. Gwendolen is assertive, she is like Algy in that she can make Jack do what she likes and will give a confident remark about herself: "I am always smart! Am I not, Mr Worthing?" She is feminine, in that she is concerned with appearance and the proper engagement, but at the same time adopts more masculine characteristics than does Jack. Gwendolen is also active as she defies what her mother instructs her to and she isn't dependent emotionally on anyone, though Jack appears to be emotionally dependant on her. A good example of Gwendolen being assertive is when Jack is made to propose to her properly. Even though Gwendolen knows exactly what he is going to ask her and she even tells him that she is going to accept him before he proposes, Gwendolen insists on a proper proposal, which is absurd. ...read more.


She is also defiant and has no intention in learning during her lessons. Algy appears to become less assertive when he meets Cecily and becomes passive, accepting everything she says even though it is absurd. It is also discovered that Cecily is going to be by no means economically dependent when she matures because she is the inheritor of "a hundred and thirty thousand pounds in the Funds." It can be predicted that Cecily like Gwendolen is going to have the upper hand over Algernon in their marriage. After examination of the female characters it can be concluded that the female characters are no more typical Victorian women than are Algernon and Jack typical Victorian men. Oscar Wilde has created characters that challenge the Victorian views of gender relations, out of these stems the humour of the comedy of manners. The characters are not what you would expect and the femininity and masculinity of the male and female characters respectively give the characters their wit and it makes the play all the more absurd. "The Importance of Being Earnest" is original in that it is the first play that satirised Victorian society like this and gender roles were a very important part of that society. Oscar Wilde made his contemporary audience laugh at themselves even though they might not have known it. ...read more.

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