A Tale of Three Classes
A Marxist Criticism on “The Importance of Being Earnest”
“Excuse me Geoffrey, could you get me some more water. I’m terribly thirsty, and the weather out here isn’t doing any good for my complexion.” declares the man as he sighs in exhaustion.
“Right away sir, anything else?” proclaims the servant.
“No that will be all.” says the man as he waves off the servant.
So is this the scene of yesteryear’s society or one of today’s, well in actuality it can be either. In today’s world the rich still rely on butlers and maids. It seems to be a practice that will always exist in this world, but the question largely is not on their jobs, but if they are deemed of a different class, and sadly to say yes. In today’s world it seems that class is still a huge part of the world order, and moreover it seems that there will always be the rich and poor, the owner and the worker. This is even demonstrated by the literature of our time and that of other era’s, such as the play “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde. In this play Wilde display’s the class structure with a different and interesting twist. He makes a reflection on the society with his own sense of humor, but however it still leaves a very good opportunity to make a Marxist critique about the way the class structure influences the play. He leaves room for these critiques when he writes about the servants, the nobles, and the middle class. His view on society and class is very evident on the way the servants are portrayed.
“‘I don’t know that I am much interested in your family life, Lane'”
“‘No sir; it’s not a very interesting subject. I never think of it myself.'”
In this passage from the play it is very clear that Wilde likes to give his characters some life, but however it seemed that he was giving the servants a bit too much, but nevertheless it does establish very well the position of those servants. In the society Wilde is presenting it seems that the place of the servant was not only for manual labor, but also to provide conversation, and to compliment the employer’s personalities. In the story the idea of class was demonstrated by the interaction between Lane and Algernon even though Lane was witty he did know his place as a servant and throughout the play the servants were an excellent reminder that class structure did exist. Wilde’s idea of a witty servant has even spawned off into today’s society with television sitcoms such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel- Air” and “The Nanny”. In these shows the class structure is inherent, but the gap between master and servant is smaller. That is one of the things that Wilde seemed to make apparent, one can have servants, but the gap between doesn’t have to be that large. There can be class structure in the world, but the need for class discrimination doesn’t need to be there, and another interesting critique can be made of the nobles of that time.
In the Victorian period, and today’s nobles exist. These are people who are of noble birth right and is only passed on from generation to generation. It is a well respected position, but the difference between the nobles of today’s day and the older ones is the power that they have. In today’s time the nobles have little power only respect, but in the Victorian period the power was starting to diminish but it still existed. The characters in the play who were of noble birth did indeed know how to use that power.
Well when one makes a Marxist criticism it can’t be solely based on the story’s view of the servants, but however one needs to also look at the way the nobility are viewed. In Oscar Wilde’s play he seems to make almost a mockery of the nobility. When one sees the way the nobles are portrayed one will think this is a sarcasm on the nobles, but however if one examines it closer he/she may realize this is closer to the truth than previous accounts of the nobles. In the play Oscar Wilde does not hold back in fears he would offend anyone he wrote a play to entertain, but he also did an excellent job on reflecting how the nobles are. Firstly he displays the character of Algernon, who is, quite frankly, a languid in debt young man, but nevertheless he is still a noble. With this character Wilde show’s the reader that all nobles aren’t perfect and can be more flawed than the average person, and portrayed was the fact that the rich and noble sometimes seem to abuse that position and end up in a deeper hole than most others. Then there is his Aunt Augusta, who is a very powerful character. Aunt Augusta in her own rights is the dominant persona in the play. She holds the cards and plays them at her own discretion. Her character reveals to the audience that in nobility there isn’t just the man who controls things, but in many cases it is the female. She takes over the role of leader and makes for an interesting view on the female aspect of nobility, but however there is another aspect to female nobility, and that is inherent in Gwendolyn. She possesses all the attributes of, plain and simply, a snob. She has the beauty, the upbringing and the turned up nose of a noble. She symbolizes a part of nobility that most people will not talk about, but however Wilde does talk and better yet he reveals all of the little quirks of the noble class. In Gwendolyn is the part of the class where, nobility has turned from respect and prestige and into vanity. She has abused the prestige she has and turned into a vain quest to be looked upon and desired. It seems that the Victorian class had little class in the nobles, but however there is one last class to look at.
In the Victorian era a new class was being born that integrated the two distinct upper class and lower class, that class was the Bourgeoisie, or the middle class. Wilde put this new class into his play with grand success. They were a class of business men and investors, and from that spurned the character Jack. Jack was the character who not only symbolized the middle class, but he also carried the turmoil of, “What class do I belong to?” He was from a lower class community, but had worked his way up to infringing on noble status. He wanted to marry a noble but at the same time he wanted to keep his roots, this is excellent symbolism for actual class struggle, and when one views this from a Marxist viewpoint, then this is a grand criticism to be made, because throughout the whole play Jack ponders this question, and its symbolism is too great to be missed. The entire play is a reflection upon class struggle. However his struggle was not as difficult as he had assumed because in the end he discovers, he is of noble birth, s thus leaving him with an easier decision, and moreover this is another support for the nobility taking the easy way out, and not striving to accomplish they’re goals with arduous work. All in all the classes presented in this book lent itself to a Marxist criticism.
In the play “The Importance of Being Earnest” were many facets that could have been criticized by numerous viewpoint’s, but however the most thorough would be that of the Marxist view because it allows the reader to take a step back and see the play for all it is, and it is true that the play’s main plot line is that of s relationship between a man and woman, but however the underlying real issue is that of their class and society. The play makes a great example for a Marxist criticism on the effect of classes on literature. Wilde’s own wit and intellect make for an excellent view of the classes of the previous era. It is a work that will be a not only viewed as a comedic triumph, but also as a social one as well.
A Tale of Three Classes