Posts Tagged 'Society'
Tags: British Society, Complaints, Moya Greene, Post, Postal Service, Privitisation, Royal Mail, Service, Society
Tags: Acceptance, Bigot, bigotry, Black, BNP, Hate, Hatred, Nick Griffin, Race, Racism, Racist, Society, Tolerance, Understanding, White, White Supremist
“Right Winston, you’re about to get cooked. Anything to say? Says he ain’t a drug dealer. He thinks he’s not black. He’s charged with being black. Now get on there”. The words spoken by a twelve year old girl as she threw a golly doll onto a fire at the BNP’s so called family fun day.
The fact that a child of twelve is being brought up with these views and toxic beliefs is the complete contradiction of an autonomous, intelligent society. The decisions of parents are mandatorily inflicted on children in a way that gives them no other choice but to adopt the same attitude. Who teaches children that being black is somehow a crime or that homosexuality is indecent? They are never allowed the opportunity to make the choice for themselves because any individual thought is inhibited.
I find it impossible to grasp the concept that a human brain can manage to believe that the colour of someone’s skin can make them inferior and that being white automatically makes a person supreme. I believe in superiority but a superiority determined by morality and the choices we make and things we do, rather than by factors we have no control over, such as skin colour. One person can be superior to another by wilful decisions. A man who hits his wife, for example, is in my opinion inferior to a man who doesn’t. The man who believes women are inferior to men is by that means, inferior himself. Arguably, the bigot automatically becomes inferior as a result of deciding to hold hateful opinions of other humans. How can a person truly believe that another human being is sub-human, inferior simply because they have a different skin colour or a different sexuality?
If a social group is justifiably guilty of being culpable of a reprehensible act then it is fair to make judgement. As a hypothetical example, if 90% of people from Scotland were found to be guilty of throwing eggs at Edinburgh castle then one could rightfully presume that Scottish people are more than likely to be egg throwers. However, if an egg had never been thrown then how could one assume that they are likely to throw eggs without any substantial evidence? Worse, how can one assume that a group of people are guilty of something which cannot even be defined? There is no tangible crime or physical act for which blame can be apportioned or even presumed, simply that a social group is somehow beneath another in some indefinable way, as a result of something completely beyond their control.
The attitude embodied by the BNP is one which transgresses logic. The rational belief, for example, that Britain is being detrimentally flooded with illegal immigrants and asylum seekers is one which many reasonable people share. Though we share it however, our agreement stops at a certain point. As much as I feel resentment that so many asylum seekers are entering Britain and that it should be prevented, I do not in any way see myself as superior to one of the individual people. As a human being, the only things which distinguish me from another human being are the things I choose. Therefore, I feel resentment towards the asylum seekers but if I were face-to-face with one I wouldn’t feel that they were inferior to me as a member of humanity and flesh and blood. Both he and I are human beings, differentiated only by social factors.
Similarly, I find it difficult to understand the attitude of people against same sex marriage and the people who baulk and wince at the first gay kiss on Coronation Street. The fact that two human beings are being married or kissing should not be altered by the sex of the individuals. Two consenting adults are no different whether they are men or women. If asked to define precisely why two men kissing is different from a man kissing a woman, would they be able to justify their disapproval? What exactly makes it different?
Society would benefit immensely from a greater acceptance that human is human. Beneath our skin, what is different? There should be no disparity between two people, other than the conscious path we take morally. How can the BNP logically define the difference between black and white? If a black doctor saved a person’s life, are they less a hero than a white doctor? If a black man is homeless and penniless, are they less deserving of help than a white man? What exactly is it that they believe makes us so different?
Tags: Church, prejudice, Religion, Society, Twenty-First Century
Twenty-First Century Religion
Fresh in the knowledge (revealed this week) that the cost of maintaining the homes of the Church of England’s Bishops last year totalled £3.7 million and another £14.5 million for bishops’ staff and offices, one can’t help but ask what part religion actually plays in modern society.
Undeniable is the hope provided to the devoutly religious, who console themselves that death is not something to be feared because their souls will rise to heaven to sit with God on a cloud, assuming of-course that they comply with the almost fascist strictures of the Bible and do not break any of the commandments. What does religion offer then to the people who can’t help but contradict the attitude of ‘the Good Book’? The aggressively religious devotees offer no other elucidation to the homosexual man than that he will spend eternity in hell. Is this truly what any god (if in existence) would say to one of their children? Religious dogma declares with one breath that we are ‘all God’s children’ and that ‘God (and/or Jesus) loves us all’, apparently equally, and then in the next breath rejects and rebukes the factors in society which they are unable to comprehend. If God ‘loves us all’ then why does he not love us all? Why can he love you but not your gay next-door neighbour?
My family recently placed an insurance claim for a slate that had been blown off the roof and onto a car parked in the drive. The insurance company wriggled out of the claim, insisting that the wind which had blown the tile from the roof had been ‘an act of God’. Is this really acceptable for the twenty-first century? Insurance policies based on religious figures that rely on belief and no concrete evidence are surely an archaic antiquity. It’s like basing an insurance claim on a chimney broken by Father Christmas. My insistence that Father Christmas does indeed, most definitely exist and did quite unequivocally knock a tile from my chimney is no less substantial and credulous than their claim that God blew a title from my roof. What next, a return to ducking stools and witch hunts for the disgraced MP’s? If they don’t drown then they’re fraudulent!
I feel insulted and disrespected on behalf of every hero; every fireman who pulled a child from a burning building and placed the child safely in their mother’s arms only to witness the mother raise her eyes to heaven and thank God for saving her child. Was it not the bravery, courage and hard work of that one human man who saved that child? I suppose they would claim that God had given that man the courage to do what he did, but why should the glory and honour be taken away so coldly from the heroic human being? Every day the human race faces and conquers unimaginable pain and difficulty. People in their own lives struggle through hard times and come out the other side because of their own resilience and strength, not a man in the sky. I understand the comfort some people derive from believing in a higher power, but I think we should give humanity the credit (and often disapproval) that it earns for and by itself.
It was only very recently that a specific change in church ‘law’ and attitude occurred, meaning that children who are not christened do not go to hell. Before this change, what was said to all the mothers who miscarried children? If they chose to believe the Church, that their unborn, dead child was in hell because they hadn’t been christened? What place does a Church like this have in modern society? That ‘law’ has been changed now but how many others like it still exist? In a society endeavouring to encourage understanding and acceptance, why do these pockets of poisonous, religious hatred still breed? What kind of God would tell one of their followers to drive a plane into a building full of people or get onto a bus and detonate a bomb? Obviously religious fanaticism and terrorism are very different from actual religious piety and the two must be distinguished, but those people claimed they were taking lives in the name of God, a ‘holy war’. How many people have died because their family denied them a blood transfusion in the name of God? How many wars and violent deaths have happened across the world and on our streets in the name of God?
Denying people the right to believe in whatever they feel they want to believe is not constructive or acceptable, but when religion affects our lives against our will, when it invades our lives, which it does, do we have the right to protest? I feel I should have had the right to protest when my insurance company refused to process my claim. How can they write a policy based on ‘acts of God’ without having evidence that God exists? How can we form laws, rules and wars based on something which is no more than mythology? I appreciate that religion gives hope and that it provides structure and guidance in many people’s lives, that young men in gangs on the streets of New York may equally put down their gun in the name of God as take it up, but should hate be allowed to exist in that name too? Do we live in a time when it’s still acceptable for people in society to be told that they aren’t loved by God because they are different? When wars are started, bombs detonated, lives lost, all in the name of religion, is that really a valuable contribution to society? Like all things that exist in the world, there is some good and some bad. In one person’s life religion is something positive, beneficial, harmless and benign, but in the hands and mind of another person, the wrong person, religion becomes aggressive, hateful and detrimental to society. Hatred in any form has no place in our world. Anything which actively encourages its followers to hate their fellow human beings is injurious and poisonous to humanity.
Religion can admittedly do much good and give many people a better life, but it can just as equally be virulent, hostile and destructive. Like all things, religion can only have a part in society if it evolves and progresses. If religion is unable to keep up with the twenty-first century and lose its anachronistic attitudes based on ancient scriptures, then there is no place for it in a society which is trying hard to adapt to a modern way of life. Religion and all of its followers and practitioners, preachers and pontificators must leave behind a time when it could reject people from society on flimsy caprice and watch its flock starve and fade from gilded windows, dining on fine food and wine bought with the donations of the people starving. Religion must grow up and bring itself into the twenty-first century or it will continue to be a destructive and toxic tumour, detrimental to our progression.
Tags: BBC, bigotry, Boundaries, Comedians, Comedy, Culture, Humour, Jokes, Racism, Sexism, Society, Television, Watershed
Comedy: The Death of Heroes
In the infancy of the BBC and Television’s wholesome and repressed roots, comedians dared not offend the British public with profanities and sexually explicit vulgarities and were instead confined to traditional and trusted bigotry and Mother-in-Law jokes which form the culturally safe backbone of our nation. In the familiar paradigm best exhibited by thoroughly British comedian Jim Davidson, comedians voiced the thoughts and feelings of the nation when it came to recently introduced cultural phenomenon such as ‘black people’ and ‘the gays’. The average bloke on the street took the Rising Damp stance of ‘don’t bring your voodoo over here’ and ‘eh-up lads, backs to the wall!’ and this is precisely the voice heard through the mouthpiece of Britain’s comedians. Racism was safe, familiar and acceptable, it’s what the public trusted. It is unfortunate that Television’s puritanical attitude towards the mention of sex or anything deemed unsuitable for family, pre-watershed viewing did not extend to the policies on bigotry.
Since those days comedy has subverted, inverted and transcended all those well-established boundaries and has formed as many new identities and levels of acceptability as Madonna . Riding the new national atmosphere of cosmopolitan tolerance and understanding, comedians fought against the rules on swearing and sexual openness and simultaneously challenged the boundaries of racism and homophobia. As open displays of insularity were rebuked in favour of open-mindedness, the stuffy, tightly-buttoned shirt collar of the proletariat underbelly was loosened and swearing and sexuality became more acceptable. A more open-minded, liberated generation of comedy emerged which embraced all of society’s diverse components and allowed itself the freedom to behave on stage/television as one would in ‘real life’. The new-age attitude allowed comedians to speak to their audience as they would their mates in the pub, with swearing and honesty. Over time the old generation of comedians became fodder for satire and risible artefacts of a by-gone, intolerant age. The new, fresh comedians washed away the ‘gay’ jokes and the sub-sudo-sub-textual innuendoes which became sinister and dangerous in their forced repression, and brought in a new age of ‘f words’ and ‘knob gags’. A little further down the line and both the ‘gay jokes’ and the ‘knob jokes’ had both given way to a more enlightened comedy which was both free of prejudice and repression and also free of the adolescence of rebellion and its innate prosaic crudity and caustic spit. Now came a spiritual, new comedy, comedy which inspired its audience and talked people down off ledges. Then new comedy was able to reflect on the repression of the early television generation and its closeted, buttoned-up stuffiness, and also the teenage rebellion which followed, comedy had now evolved into an adult. It could swear but not aggressively, talk about sex maturely and be understanding of all sexes, races and sexualities. The comedy of the new millennium is intelligent, satirically sophisticated and understanding of every part of society, comedy which steps up to the challenge of our social diversity but resists the ‘PC’ madness which has replaced the old repression.
Britain is a naturally obsequious nation. We don’t like controversy and this is no bad thing, except when it prohibits freedom of speech. We are a nation which stands back while people push in front of us at the supermarket checkout, we don’t like a fuss. By nature Britain is an unconfrontational sycophant and when it comes to anybody but hard-working British people our current burden is not upsetting anybody who isn’t white, middle/working class and employed. Television has gone beyond PC to a ridiculous extent but comedians have resisted, somehow maintaining the balance between understanding and freedom. It appears to be because comedians are able to handle subjects with more intelligence, charm and understanding than any television producer is able to. Rather than worrying whether something will offend or upset, comedians face a subject head-on, challenging pre-conceptions and delicately balancing the subject so that neither side of the fence are offended. This does not mean ‘sitting on the fence’ but means that they are able to discuss a subject with understanding and compassion which satisfies both the party which is subject and also the party which is audience. Where Television steps back from controversy, comedians smash it up and piss on it. They don’t offend people because they have the intelligence to show empathy and actually understand the subject, rather than being frightened of it. Comedians get their hands dirty and are rewarded for it.
Sadly the new generation of comedy is under threat. The older generation are still attached to the old days of no swearing and ‘black’ jokes. Yes older people are equally entitled to enjoyable entertainment, but sadly they feel the need to eradicate anything they don’t understand and so instead of changing the channel or making an effort to comprehend a new way of thinking, they complain, meaning that the new comedians are soon going to be forced down the repression route of old.
A recent (and frankly exhausted) example is Sachsgate. We’re all aware of the who’s, where’s and what’s but are we aware of the cost of the incident to our cultural freedom? A rapacious listener of The Russell Brand Show, I willingly surrendered my Saturday nights to my radio and was educated, enlightened, entertained and simultaneously had my eyes opened to new experiences and knowledge and also brought to tears with laughter. The programme was intelligent, hilarious and in my opinion extremely valuable. The programme offered listeners a unique experience which combined internationally top-draw comedy (improvised live, unscripted), truly intelligent and remarkable discussions on diverse subjects from Darwinism and David Icke to the dispute between China and Tibet. Listeners were also integral to the show and contributed by phone, text, e-mail and also largely featured in the conception of the regular items. It was a fantastically unique experience enjoyed by a vast and loyal following. While no defence for what was said to Andrew Sachs is offered because it was categorically wrong, the point should be made that much of this event was orchestrated by the media. One key fact often missed is that Andrew Sachs was booked to appear on the radio show that night to be interviewed. It was not a random prank call, it was arranged. I am not suggesting that Brand and Ross were right to say what they did, they weren’t, but it should be clearly understood that on the night of the radio show (broadcast between 9.00 pm and 11.00 pm, well after the watershed) only four people phoned to complain (out of a listening audience of two million). It was two weeks later, following a feature by the Daily Mail, that the thousands of complaints were received, most of them by people who hadn’t even heard it. In fact there was one final broadcast of the show the following week, before the event even hit the news, when the Daily Mail were present, compiling their case.
What happened to Andrea Sachs was wrong and reprehensible but my point is that a radio show which was enjoyed by many people ceased to enlighten their lives because the BBC was frightened of controversy. A metaphorical slap on the wrists would have sufficed, purely for the offence caused to an individual grandfather. In fact an apology was made and fully accepted. I understand why it would cause offence to people listening but is it really fair to curtail a cultural cornerstone and immensely enjoyed weekly event simply because some people object to the use of a certain word?
If comedy and free speech are restricted, confined and suppressed then so too is the freedom of thought and speech which enable us to function as intelligent human beings. I understand why my own grandmother dislikes hearing swear words on television (despite using them herself in private), but my argument is that if television does not reflect a true representation of real life then our thoughts and opinions are being forcibly squeezed out of us. If comedians are prohibited from speaking to us in the same way they would if they met us in the street then they are not being themselves and are suppressing their own thoughts and views, which are precisely what I enjoy about comedians. They are human beings and should be allowed to behave as such. I do not advocate anything which intentionally hurts or offends people, by which I mean something aimed directly at another human being with the intention of causing offence (for example gay or black jokes), but I do feel passionately that freedom of speech is what makes human beings better. It educates and improves us and through it we grow. If all of that is repressed and we go back to bigotry and the ridicule of people who have no control over the colour of their skin or their own sexuality or physical disability (the stand-up material of Ricky Jervais for example), then how are we better people?
Tags: Auction, Blue and White China, Farce, Homosexuality, Identity, Imprisonment, Oscar Wilde, Society, The Importance of Being Ernest, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Trial
One of the saddest things I have ever seen occurred in a recent presentation on Oscar Wilde by a fellow student. One of the visual aids was a copy of the auction sheet following Oscar´s trial. Amongst the list of various goods and chattels; ´Valuable Books´ etc, with no prominent position or status were the words; ´Old Blue and White China´.
They sent a ghostly shiver down my spine. The collection so adored and treasured was reduced to five words with no trace of the love, pride and adulation felt by its owner, who famously said ´I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china´. Those cruel five words erase years of affection and emotional attachment. I think that what makes me feel so much tragedy about it is that it is merely one item on a long list, no importance or value, just a small part of a miscellany. One just happens across it as they meander down the list of unimportant and various objects, and this was his most prized and beloved possession, something which symbolized and reflected him, who he was. This entry on a commonplace list of household items represents one of the greatest literary and human influences in history. Like or loathe him, he made a difference, he was important. To many he created things of beauty, works of art. He was a man. A man who in the best days of his life was tried and convicted and thus ruined. A valuable and artistic life was cut short because he could not conform to the restrictions society imposed. He was tried for gross indecency. His life was curtailed because he was homosexual. All of this is reduced to five words; ´Old Blue and White China´.
Saying that his life was curtailed is not unjust. He was tried and imprisoned because he was homosexual. The strain both emotional and physical left him broken and the auction left him bankrupt. His manuscripts and everything he owned and loved were gone. When he was released he lived only three years. He was forty-six.
Any life is beautiful and the loss of a short-lived and valuable life is tragic. Wilde created beauty and truth, he changed how we think, what we think and what we are allowed to think. He was born too early, in a time that could not and did not want to understand him. He was not allowed to be the person he was and was ultimately condemned for it. Those five words appear so unremarkable and insignificant but they represent the man and everything that happened to him, everything he created.
A life and a life´s work is boiled down to so little, remembered as such triviality. In his lifetime that collection of china, and indeed all the objects on the list, were part of his home and his everyday life, they were part of him. He cherished and cared for them. He identified himself with them and signified that he and they were part of the same entity. They sat on his shelf or perhaps in a cabinet, in his living room or maybe his study. They were dusted, protected and admired. They were home.
Those five pathetic words have spoken more to me, moved me more and represented more to me than anything I´ve ever read about Wilde. Though they seem trivial they are in fact a symbol of Oscar himself; lost in the midst of a miscellaneous list, unnoticed. Shining like a beacon out of the murky list, they represent a remarkable and beautiful human being whose memory is tainted by and obscured by the searing brand left on his name when he was convicted. His work is overshadowed by the criminality and purported depravity. Words and metaphors and beautiful sentences, ingenious characters and hilarious lines are all faded beneath the imprint of his homosexuality and imprisonment. Poetry and humour are lost. We do not remember the writer, the man, we remember Oscar Wilde the incarcerated poof and pervert. All that is left of the real man is ´Old Blue and White China´ and a few scattered words.
‘And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.’
From ´The Ballad of Reading Gaol´.
Tags: Disguise, Farce, Homosexuality, Identity, Oscar Wilde, Society, The Importance of Being Ernest, The Picture of Dorian Gray
‘The only real people are the people who never existed, and if a novelist is base enough to go to life for his personages he should at least pretend that they are creations, and not boast of them as copies. The justification of a character in a novel is not that other persons are what they are, but that the author is what he is. Otherwise the novel is not a work of art.’ (Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying).
There is a portion of Wilde’s work which is considered what we would term ‘farce’. Work such as The Importance of Being Ernest is almost invariably referred to in such terms and is considered to be superficial, fairly shallow frivolity. However, if one scratches just a little beneath the surface then it is clear to see that the farce is merely a disguise, a mask. Farce as façade.
Wilde used a shallow and one-dimensional exterior to create a Trojan Horse for the real message of his work. He disguised his true meaning and intention in a more easily palatable, innocuous form. In the same way that Wilde used his characters in The Importance of Being Ernest to satirically mock and criticise the very upper-classes who made up his audience, meaning that without realising they were actually laughing at themselves, so too did he feed his message to his audience subconsciously, without them registering the true meaning behind his fluffy masquerade.
In The Importance of Being Ernest two characters both live double lives, attempting to balance two very differing personalities. Both characters present a different person in their home life to the person they present to society. In the case of Jack Worthing, he immerses himself in the glamour and excitement of high-society and fashionable life in London in order to escape the responsibilities and burdens of domesticity and his ward Cecily Cardew, a life which he finds banal and claustrophobic. He explains to Algernon, in elucidation of his double life, that ‘when one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people. It is excessively boring’ (The Importance of Being Ernest). Jack has become prematurely responsible for another person’s wellbeing, left in charge of his ward before he had experienced the joy of bachelor life. He feels a loyalty to his ward and is faithful to the responsibility bestowed upon him. By creating two personalities, he is able to fulfil his obligations at home while also living the life of an unburdened bachelor whilst in London.
Wilde creates characters who each have two separate relationships with society. Both characters manipulate those around them by escaping the life they are chained to. Similar to Jack, Algernon creates not an alter-ego but an excuse. He uses a fictional friend; Bunbury, in order to give himself a legitimate and excusable reason to escape the unbearable company of his relatives. When he wishes to avoid a social occasion or family obligation he invents the excuse that he must visit Bunbury, his ailing and frequently ill friend. Algernon explains to Jack; ‘You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up to town as often as you like. I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose’. Both Algernon and Jack escape their mundane, everyday lives to experience a small taste of the life they wish they could lead. Jack is able to live as a bachelor and Algernon is able to escape the relatives who overshadow his life.
Wilde is exploring a basic human quality, the desire for space and to live your own life, which conflicts with the need to fulfil domestic obligations. This is also a prominent factor in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. The novel’s protagonist and title character finds that he is able to live a decadent and often immoral life but retain his youth and beauty, while his portrait grows old and haggard, his sins and immoralities being reflected in the portrait’s disfigurement.
In both texts it could be suggested that Wilde is using the idea of his characters’ concealing their true identities and escaping their obligations as a manifestation of the double life and deceit that he was forced to live himself as a homosexual man in a time when homosexuality was illegal. The theme of concealment and false personalities would surely have been extremely important to Wilde, as his true life and true self were lived in secret and illicitness. While not explicitly embellishing his characters with the specific agonies and personal dichotomies which he himself would have struggled with, he does evoke a sense of the same internal conflict and split life which he would have lived.
Wilde’s states in The Decay of Lying; ‘Art finds her own perfection within, and not outside of, herself. She is not to be judged by any external standard of resemblance. She is a veil, rather than a mirror.’
Wilde’s veil is an ingenious manipulation of his audience. What appears to be superficial and harmless fun is actually an extremely potent message about not only his own life but the suffering shared by those with the same experience.
Algernon’s comment to Jack; ‘nothing will induce me to part with Bunbury, and if you ever get married, which seems to me extremely problematic, you will be very glad to know Bunbury. A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it’ (p14), could quite plausibly be a particularly poignant reference to his own life, in which he lived as a devoted and loyal husband and father while still being true to his own homosexual self in his personal relationships. In this comment Wilde could be echoing the fact that without being able to indulge his true feelings within his private homosexual relationships; his secret identity, he would have been unable to successfully maintain his public identity as the heterosexual husband and father.
Dorian Gray’s ability to live his immoral life while appearing aesthetically to be virtuous and beautiful, thus concealing his true self to the world, could also be reference to the hidden and surreptitious nature of Wilde’s true self. The true life that Wilde wanted to live had to be suppressed and lived in clandestine secret. This recurrent theme was integral to his eventual trial and conviction.
Wilde repeatedly presents the individual’s relationship with society as a burden, something which must be lived with and around, even escaped. Wilde’s characters frequently have conflicting sides of a split personality and must carefully manipulate what they present to society in order to mould their surface image into something acceptable and conforming.
In The Importance of Being Ernest Gwendolen tells Cecily; ‘The home seems to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate, does he not?’ (p44). It is a prominent factor in Wilde’s work that men and women must conform to what society expects. This is one of the primary reasons for his characters finding a way to escape the responsibilities forced upon them. This particular comment, made by a strong female character who would in modern terms be considered feminist, is another sub-surface and indirect reference to Wilde’s own life.
Like his characters, Wilde had two very differing personalities. Wilde endeavoured to fulfil his domestic obligations and is reported to have been an extremely devoted father. Gwendolen’s comment could very easily be a reference to the fact that Wilde felt defensive about his success and ability as a father, while still being faithful to his homosexual self. The conflict experienced by Wilde is arguably the influence on the conflicts he gives his characters, manifested in their need for escape and sanctuary.
It could therefore be suggested that Wilde’s view of the individual’s relationship with society is one of deceit and Machiavellian duplicity. In another comment made by Algernon to Jack, Wilde could again be alluding to his own life:
Jack: If I marry a charming girl like Gwendolen, and she is the only girl I ever saw in my life that I would marry, I certainly won’t want to know Bunbury.
Algernon: Then your wife will. You don’t seem to realize, that in married life three is company and two is none.
Wilde could once again be making direct reference, though indirectly made, to the fraudulent and carefully constructed persona he used himself to disguise the truth of his identity. It could be argued that Algernon is the manifestation of Wilde’s more deceitful side, the truly Machiavellian and intentionally deceptive aspect of his personality, while Jack is the more virtuous half of the pair, the loyal desire to be faithful to one’s obligations, although Jack too cannot escape the overwhelming need to be faithful also to the true self. He does however manage to balance simultaneously, though only for a short time, domestic and personal loyalty.
In both The Importance of Being Ernest and The Picture of Dorian Gray Wilde illustrates the inherent human conflicts which exist within us all. In both texts Wilde’s characters fight against the inescapable dichotomy of social life and home life, finding a way to display the appropriate aspects of their personality at the relevant moment. Dorian Gray, Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrief all behave very differently in varying situations and they display carefully selected and apposite aspects of their personality according to company and situation. Wilde’s character Cecily Cardew for example, remains studious and dutiful to her academia under the scrutiny of her governess Miss Prism, while daydreaming of romance and escape in the freedom and secrecy of her imagination. She conceals her dreams from her governess and appears conscientious and attentive to her studies, while dreaming secretly of being rescued and taken away. The appearance and superficial exterior which is presented to the outside world differs greatly from the internal self, the true thoughts which are allowed freedom within the security of her mind.
Algernon: My letters! But, my own sweet Cecily, I have never written you any letters.
Cecily: You need hardly remind me of that, Ernest. I remember only too well that I was forced to write your letters for you.
Algernon’s second deception and his disguise, presenting himself as Ernest, enables him to appear as Jack’s brother in order to win the affections of the already infatuated Cecily. After deceiving his relatives with the false alibi of Bunbury, Algernon then poses as the fictional brother Ernest who Jack has used as his own excuse to escape.
Wilde’s interwoven plots and various pretexts, lies and disguises are all representations of human behaviour. On the surface a light-hearted and superficial farce, The Importance of Being Ernest actually makes an extremely profound comment on human nature and inherent human dichotomies. Shrouded in apparent triviality and shallow humour, Wilde does in fact send a powerful message to his audience about the problems caused by society for people who struggle to comply with the rigorous and restrictive demands placed upon them.
As he himself no doubt did, Wilde shows that his characters are unable to live as their true selves and must instead conceal themselves beneath a façade. Wilde is ingeniously and covertly attacking the same society which prohibited him from being who he truly was.
The comparatively minor problems faced by his characters are undoubtedly a symbol of the unbearable burden Wilde experienced and the exhausting challenge of hiding everything about himself he wanted to show proudly to the world. While Wilde concealed his sexuality and his true romantic life behind his marriage, his characters merely wish to escape temporarily from the minor annoyance of relatives and domesticity. The Importance of Being Ernest is actually a testimony to the injustice experienced by those living in society but unable to truly live unrestricted and truthfully.
‘In point of fact what is interesting about people in good society—and M. Bourget rarely moves out of the Faubourg St. Germain, except to come to London,—is the mask that each one of them wears, not the reality that lies behind the mask’.
Wilde’s core message, beneath both his trivial façade and true meaning is the old chestnut that we are all of us the same. Shakespeare said:
‘What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d’.
Wilde’s own expression of this message is extremely similar, that beneath the skin we are all identical; ‘It is a humiliating confession, but we are all of us made out of the same stuff. In Falstaff there is something of Hamlet, in Hamlet there is not a little of Falstaff. The fat knight has his moods of melancholy, and the young prince his moments of coarse humour’ (The Decay of Lying). Wilde’s innermost message, the most greatly disguised meaning is that although his true self is something which is illegal, illicit and considered depraved, he is still just a man. Though truly homosexual, still a capable and loving husband and father.
‘Where we differ from each other is purely in accidentals: in dress, manner, tone of voice, religious opinions, personal appearance, tricks of habit and the like. The more one analyses people, the more all reasons for analysis disappear. Sooner or later one comes to that dreadful universal thing called human nature. Indeed, as any one who has ever worked among the poor knows only too well, the brotherhood of man is no mere poet’s dream, it is a most depressing and humiliating reality; and if a writer insists upon analysing the upper classes, he might just as well write of match-girls and costermongers at once’ (The Decay of Lying).
Wilde is silently asking his audience to be accepting of those who are rebuked and punished by society for that which is inescapable, inherent and uncontrolled. Something which is not a decision or choice but which is illegal is condemnation and damnation for any man. Beneath his humour and light entertainment is a man in pain, asking for understanding and acceptance for every man or woman in society who is concealing their true self.