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Beal High School Jamie Johny
In the comedy `The importance of being Earnest' how far does Wilde's portrayal of Gwendolen
subvert traditional gender roles?
"The importance of being Earnest" is a play written by Oscar Wilde set in Victorian Britain,
which reflects the ideals of patriarchal Victorian society. The plot consists of agreements and
disagreements of two couples in love and the traps and comical situations that their lies produce.
Marriages, meanness and humour make up the play in order to criticize the Victorian society of
that time. Wilde portrays, a period where proper behavior is important and people are judged by
their wealth and social status. Traditional gender inequality existed with men being the decision
makers and women the passive audience. While men were busy with political issues, women
were expected to be innocent, maintain the correct etiquette and be submissive to men. In the
society portrayed by Wilde, women accept this status and in fact, speak of it with a sense of
resignation and truth. Gender in the play is also another window through which the social
opinions of the Victorian Era can be understood. Women were mainly valued for their beauty and
chastity. However Wilde questions these stereotypes in his work, by placing a female character
such as Gwendolen in a position of power. In the words of George Marotous a critique, `the play is
"dominantly" read as a satire on Victorian society and morality and the appropriate ways for men
and women to behave, a Resistant Reading would argue that the play is a satiric subversion of the
rigidity of conventional Victorian attitudes to gender and sexuality'1.
We are first introduced to the character Gwendolen when Algernon speaks of her flirting "My
dear fellow, the way you flirt with Gwendolen is perfectly disgraceful. It is almost as bad as the
way Gwendolen flirts with you". The audience is introduced to the fact she is not a typical female
and when Gwendolen arrives on the scene her manner is flirtatious "oh!... I intend to develop in

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Beal High School Jamie Johny
many directions" which reveals her forward nature and characterizes her persona. Also the
audience at the time would have been shocked by her sexual innuendos.…read more

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Beal High School Jamie Johny
Jack's choice when he wanted to propose. Women should be demure and wait to be asked.
Gwendolen says, "You haven't proposed to me yet" again showing her authority in the
and how this is also going against her mother's decision of not marrying Jack.…read more

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Beal High School Jamie Johny
Furthermore, Gwendolen has too much self-confidence in her opinions-" I am never wrong" and
she is also forward when speaking to others. Traditional women in society wouldn't act like this
however Gwendolen is more dominant then Jack in their relationship and this is unconventional
of women.…read more

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personal attributes. Gwendolen says "No, there is very little music in the name Jack, if any at all,
indeed". The most obvious instance of the play's stress on words, their meaning and their context
is the word "Earnest" itself.…read more

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Beal High School Jamie Johny
Critique quotes 1,2 and 3 are by George
Critique Quote 4 by Eva Richardson-…read more


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