In On Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Marek Paulun argues that gender roles have more or less evolved from their depiction in The Importance of Being Earnest and that morality is a divisive and malleable concept. Paulun relies on exemplification, literary devices, analysis, and argumentativeness in order to advance this claim. Paulun’s argument has enabled me to adopt an open mind with regards to the text. As a result, I have extracted more dimensions of the text than I expected. Rather than read the text with a fixation on its title, Paulun has led me to embrace a more critical and deeper approach that generates more interpretations on top of the obvious ones. The book contains many themes that are synonymous with traditional and modern societies. Paulun, however, writes the book in a way that sets the two societies on a coalition path. Victorian society, on which the play is based, is portrayed as hypocritical and judgmental in a self-deprecating manner. While it advocates for strict adherence to high moral standards, it appears that it is actually ambivalent.
Analysis of The Book
On Oscar Wilde’s the Importance of Being Earnest can be classified a morality book. The subjects of morality and gender are noticeable in the choice of words used in the article (importance; being earnest). However, Paulun’s use of contrast shifts the audience’s focus from the plain meaning of the title to its multiple dimensions. While the title appears to insinuate that honesty (earnestness) is vital, the characters are the exact opposite of this (Beardwood 27). At the end of the book, however, there is a shift to the obviousness in its title and affirms its initial meaning. The author uses the title of the book to convey two messages. The first is that for a majority of people, earnestness is misunderstood or ignored. Paulun seems to suggest that given the chance, most people would prioritize self-gratification over morality. This is the case with Jack Worthing, the main character in the play. A similar indifference is seen in Worthing’s friends and acquaintances, who show no hesitation to disregard morality in favor of self-interest.
The author portrays the characters as dishonest and insincere individuals who are too economical with the truth to the extent that they lie about their identities. If the author were predictable in his style of writing, readers would expect the conniving characters to anticipate their fates at the end of the play. However, the audience soon discovers that predictability is the last thing the book could possess (Harrow 18). The author offers may surprises and twists that are instrumental in making the book critical, comical, witty, intriguing, and surprising at the same time. From the title, readers would assume that the play would have a character named Ernest. However, it turns out that the entire plot depends on the protagonist passing off as Ernest. The author shows that it is equally significant being named Ernest at the start of the book as it is at the end.
The author leaves the audience with two potential scenarios to contemplate. The first is that Jack actually learns that it is important to be sincere. The second scenario is that Jack acquires a deeper understanding and embraces the significance of the name Ernest, which is a pun on earnest. The author uses clever, equivocal, and succinct phrases and sayings that reflect typical life situations. In fact, some of the sayings are such accurate depictions of reality that they can be lifted directly from the text and used to profile people and circumstances (Paulun 37). Paulun uses various motifs that are important in constructing the meaning of the text. These include puns and inversion. With respect to puns, the title of the book is not merely witty wordplay. The Ernest/earnest paradox symbolizes the very characteristic of Victorian perceptions of duty and responsibility. For example, Gwendolen is preoccupied with marrying a man named Ernest, without caring whether the man truly has the qualities commensurate with that name.
In representing a man who initially does not fit the interpretation of Ernest or earnest and who, by means of factors beyond his influence, later assumes the interpretations of both words, Worthing is real-life paradox and intricate epitome of Victorian duplicity. With respect to inversion, the author presents many types to reinforce the overall message of the play and the text. For example, Algernon’s assertion that “divorces are made in heaven” is an inversion of the claim that marriages are “made in heaven” (Shanafelt 54). At the end of the book, when Worthing says that it is a “terrible thing” for a man to find out that he has been sincere throughout his life, he inverts the standard definition of morality. The author also uses literary symbols to support the overall argument. Some of the symbols used include hypocrisy (a double life) and fiction and writing.
Hypocrisy is the main metaphor in the book, manifested in the concept of Bunburying. Algernon defines Bunburying as behavior that is typified by manufacturing an elaborate façade that allows an individual to disregard acceptable conduct while appearing to meet the highest expectations of responsibility and duty. For example, Worthing’s alter ego (Ernest) is a tool not only for avoiding social and moral responsibilities but also a secret that allows him to come across as more responsible and dutiful than he really is (Stobaugh 86). The author uses the symbol of fiction and writing to reinforce the play’s message in different ways. At the beginning of the book, Paulun argues that Algernon is already doubtful of the genuineness of Jack’s character. Algernon thinks that a part of Jack’s personality is fictitious; this is eventually confirmed to be true. Another fictitious aspect is the notion of Bunbury, which some of the characters – especially Algernon and Jack – use to escape the realities of their lives.
Fiction plays an important role in shaping the context and meaning of the book. Paulun’s main point in On the Importance of Being Earnest is to analyze Victorian society vis-à-vis Wilde’s treatment of it in his text. This analysis is limited to the issues of gender roles and marriage, especially their contexts in previous eras versus modern times. Paulun attempts to show that while Victorian society was hypocritical and limited in depth, it still plays a major role in the study of past societies and the formulation of moral standards (Wilde 71). The book makes excellent use of comparison and exemplification to not only present issues but also to examine them. This is seen in the manner in which Paulun approaches the topic of gender roles and uses instances of current dynamics to explain why there has been a huge change in the concept. For example, Paulun questions the role of aristocrats in the Victorian era and compares it to their role in the modern world.
According to Paulun, aristocrats’ abilities lie in unimportant activities like playing the piano, spreading rumors and lies, and visiting their controversial acquaintances. The tone of the book is meditative, unambiguous, and objective (Paulun 58). This is necessitated by the critical nature of the book and the author’s inclination towards a more direct style of writing. On the other hand, Wilde uses a more cheerful, calm, and casual tone in order to effectively exhibit the hypocritical nature of the text’s characters.
Illuminating The Literary Text
The book uses satire and contrast to illuminate the literary text. From a cosmetic point of view, the title seems to focus on why earnestness is important in any context. However, closer examination – especially after a brief acquaintance with the characters – reveals a fundamental difference in expectations and reality. The word choice and structure are a complete opposite of the message the author intends to convey through the title (Hayot 16). It could be said that the book is a critical and satirical portrayal of the text, as well as an antithesis to its main theme of earnestness. Through the author, the book highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the text. For example, the realistic and figurative features of the book serve to highlight the fact that the text is too casual in its coverage of the issue of gender roles.
The book also shows that the text is relatively minimalist in its articulation of key themes and concepts. This is demonstrated by the style of writing used by Wilde and the background used in casting the characters in The Importance of Being Earnest. Through clever wordplay, suspense, and plot twists, the book exposes the success of the text in its engagement of the audience (Paulun 62). For example, a direct comparison of the two suggests that the average reader would be more open to reading the text than the book. However, it is also important to note that the text and the book are two different literary platforms. Due to its nature, the text must feature more intriguing plots than the book, so it should be naturally expected that a typical audience will be more drawn to the text.
In On Oscar Wilde’s the Importance of Being Earnest, Paulun expands the concepts of marriage and gender roles as covered in the text and shows that there have been many developments since the publication of the text. In the text, Wilde moves away from conforming to stereotypes concerning gender roles in the Victorian era in which the play is set and even goes ahead to give women more power and influence than would be expected in the context of the text (Sell 46). Paulun’s book lends more credence to the text by finishing what Wilde had started and confirming a sentiment that was only covered fleetingly in the text. Paulun demonstrates that a paradigm shift in gender roles has given women more power and influence than Victorian contemporaries could ever imagine. For example, women are now almost as educated and knowledgeable as men and cannot have roles and behavior dictated to them as was common in the Victorian era. In this case, Paulun supports the stance taken by Wilde in the text.
In addition, the book shows the text’s portrayal of the concept of marriage was speculative and explorative at best, but also accurate. For example, in the text, women show more eagerness towards marriage than men, who are torn between viewing it as pleasant or unpleasant. In the text, Wilde portrays women as the ones responsible for goading men into marriage while men lack the conviction to take charge of marital issues (Claassen 23). For example, Algernon was initially adamantly cynical about marriage until encountering Cecily and falling in love with her. Wilde uses this instance to show that although women in the Victorian era had little say over common societal issues, they had considerable influence on the subject of marriage. Paulun shows Wilde’s audience that despite the fact that times have changed, the modern man is still representative of the Victorian version. For example, in one chapter of the book, Paulun states that women still play the biggest role in marital issues and decisions because men are hesitant to enter into marriages due to the perception that their independence will be limited in some way.
Since the style of writing in the book is critical while that of the text is creative, Paulun allows Wilde’s audience to acquire a critical insight into his literary mastery. This is hardly surprising considering that the book is an appraisal of the text. While reviewing different aspects of the text, it brings its strengths and deficiencies to the fore. Paulun essentially lays bare some literary features of the text by comparing various subjects (e.g., gender roles and perceptions) in different periods. Finally, Paulun succeeds in depicting Wilde and his text as flexible and balanced enough to be embraced by all classes of people (Castle 31). Paulun’s approach to the text shows that the open-minded style used by Wilde can be accommodated in any generational context. Wilde ensured that the text was as unbiased as it could be. Both genders are accorded balanced coverage that would be welcome in any discussion of its main themes. The book shows that the text marks a welcome departure from the traditional perspectives favored by Wilde’s contemporaries, who preferred to adhere to the backgrounds of their works.
The Book’s Argument About The Text and Its Influence on My Reading of It
The book’s argument about the text is informed by a critical style of writing. This is expected given that the book is a scholarly critique of the text and a comparison of different views of the same subjects (gender roles, marriage, and morals). The book has allowed me to approach the text with an open mind. With such an ambivalent title, the author challenges me to seriously consider the deeper meaning of the text in a much broader context. Using the author’s style of argument, I can decipher the text from different angles, understand it, and communicate my interpretation to others. The book enabled me to change my whole perspective of the text by revealing new insights and qualities that I was yet to imagine. Prior to reading the text, my assumption, like most people’s, was that it was informed by Wilde’s view of morality and honesty. However, after reading the book, I understood that the text was more multifaceted and complex than I imagined.
Prior to reading the book, I was convinced that Wilde’s style of writing was too multidimensional and intense for the average reader. However, Paulun helped me to abandon this thought by exposing the text as an elementary approach to issues that have affected current and past societies. By the time I read the text, I had a good grasp of both Wilde’s writing style and his inclinations towards various subjects. Previously, I assumed that the text lacked a sound storyline on which its core issues could be sufficiently addressed. However, after reading the book, I became increasingly drawn to Wilde’s works. By the time I read the text, I was well acquainted with the key themes and meaning of The Importance of being Earnest.
Paulun’s On the Importance of Being Earnest offers a rare insight into the issues discussed in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. In the book, Paulun presents an example of a good scholarly critique by providing directness, objectivity, thoughtfulness. While attempting to critique the text, Paulun inadvertently provides readers with a preview of what to expect from Wilde’s work. I must admit that the book gave me more impetus to read the text with a different perspective and a more casual style than I assumed it would require. Although Wilde’s work is a sound manifestation of literary creativity and analysis, the book serves to accentuate its positive and negative attributes. The book offers any reader an opportunity to understand some aspects of the text without necessarily having to read the whole text. Finally, by giving readers a platform to compare the text and the book on the issues of gender roles and marriage, Paulun has eliminated numerous misconceptions that were inspired by a poor understanding of Wilde’s work or a negative attitude towards it.
- Beardwood, Robert. Literary Analysis. Sydney: Insight Publications, 2013. Print.
- Castle, Gregory. The Literary Theory Handbook. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Print.
- Claassen, Eefje. Author Representations in Literary Reading. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub., 2012. Print.
- Harrow, Susan. The Art of the Text Visuality in Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century: Literary and Other Media. Cardiff: U of Wales, 2013. Print.
- Hayot, Eric. On Literary Worlds. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.
- Paulun, Mareike. On Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”: Mirror and Critic of the Late Victorian Gender Concepts and the Ideas of Marriage. Norderstedt: GRIN, 2013. Print.
- Sell, Roger D. The Ethics of Literary Communication Genuineness, Directness, Indirectness. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2013. Print.
- Shanafelt, Colin. Literary Analysis & Essay Writing Guide. Austin, TX.: Gatsby’s Light Publications, 2011. Print.
- Stobaugh, James P. Skills for Literary Analysis (Student) Lessons in Assessing Writing Structures. Green Forest: New Leaf Group, 2013. Print.
- Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of being Earnest. Pearson Education, 2010. Print.