The Importance of Being Earnest suggests that men had more of a greater influence than women did. Men held the house down with the decision-making as women cooked and cleaned for their families. Wilde brings in intriguing questions about the gender roles portrayed throughout the play by putting women in the positions of power and how men make all the decisions in the family. I believe Wilde portrays comedic humor through the characters to mock the roles of society.
The two main female characters Gwendolen and Cecily are depicted as hopeless romantics who are upper class young women that are fixated on only marrying a man with the name of Earnest. As Gwendolen admits, “my ideal has always been to love someone of the name Earnest there is something in that name, that inspires absolute confidence,” she is portraying the high standards that upper class victorian women had to follow. Through reinforcements of the stereotype that women are mercurial in nature, Wilde suggests that us women are quick to change our minds over the most trivial things. Once Gwendolen and Cecily first meet, they were great friends until a slight mishap of “falling in love with the same guy” had struck them apart. After Gwendolen and Cecily found out that the men they “fell in love with” have been lying to them, they come to realization of how much power they have towards men. “The fact that they did not follow us at once into the house, as anyone else would have done, appears to me to show that they have some sense of shame left,” providing evidence on now that they have all of this power not knowing what to do with all of it, humorously the girls come up with numerous tactics to overpower the boys. Wilde’s depiction of indecisiveness in women conveys that women shouldn’t be given any real power.
The two main male characters Jack and Algernon are illustrated as witty handsome men who feel the need to uphold the standards of being a gentlemen. Algernon implies to Jack that women are too pampered, idealistic, and fragile to handle. “I really don’t see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love,” providing that Algernon believes that sappy love leads up to divorces. Through the lies that build up Wilde emphasizes that lying will get you nowhere with a woman. Once Gwendolen and Cecily found out that Jack and Algernon were lying to them for love, Gwendolen makes a pact with Cecily to not speak to the guys until they approach first. As Gwendolen gains power over Jack, Jack gives a speech to Gwendolen, “Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?” providing evidence that men can also lose power like women.
“Up to the present moment I will frankly admit that I have always admired you. Now I simply adore you. It requires merely physical courage to sacrifice oneself,” The gender roles brought up throughout the play contributes to the overall humorous tone of the play. It puts characters such as Lady Bracknell in positions of power by showing that the males in the play; Jack and Algernon, can be irresponsible and are inferior when it comes to decision making, it shows that this is a creator of comedy because at the time of production it was very much a man’s world and women were subordinate and uncontrolling. Wilde’s original audience was used as a traditional role for both men and women, and seeing people outside their respective roles in varying degrees of comfort giving Wilde’s audience a different perspective on society.