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Word Count: 3,896
In the closing lines of the first act of Oscar Wildes The Importance of Being Earnest Algernon remarks I love scrapes They are the only things that are never serious to which Jack responds Oh thats nonsense Algy You never talk about anything but nonsense Algernon caps off this exchange with a proclamation of the purpose of the whole work Nobody ever does 1642 Wilde never allows anything in the work to conclude on a serious note While Wilde repeatedly proclaims this direction for the play through his characters he does not tell us the motivation for this direction He never explains why there is this avoidance of earnestness The most apparent answer lies in the veiled criticism of Victorian society contained at each level of the play The quick paradoxical epigrams that form the core of the conversational comedy are pointed at Victorian society Wilde also abuses the concept of characterization with paradox to create comical characters that expose Victorian deficiencies Each of these criticisms relies upon the paradoxes that Wilde sets up on successively larger scales within the play It is in fact this tool of humor not the object of ridicule that truly defines this work While each paradox is pointed at Victorian society the individual paradoxes each take on a different element of Victorian society thereby diminishing the pointedness of the overall criticism The use of paradox allows Wilde to take this play beyond its narrow and somewhat scattered critique of Victorian society The underpinning element then is not Victorian society but instead the paradox the concept of dual irreconcilable elements This more lasting topic is not coincidentally the one that defined Wildes own life In his own struggle to cope with the deficiencies of prudish Victorian society he was forced to create multiple identities to mask his homosexuality While Wildes ironic look at nineteenth-century Victorian England is funny it is on the higher abstract level that Wildes work is unified
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