Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is memorable for its outlandish coincidences, interweaving plot threads, and complex wordplay. With its intense rhetorical banter, (my personal favorite aspect of the play), the play delves much deeper into the culture of the times. The depiction of society is the most obvious device utilized throughout the play. By using a New Historicist approach, several of the characters represent the blatant differences in class. Lady Bracknell’s over-the-top manner of dress and need for strict social connections conflicts sharply with Cicily’s “bland” countryside life and clothing. While not entirely “poor,” Cicily is of a lower class than Lady Bracknell’s. Cicily tends to her garden, and educates herself (albeit unwillingly) with the aid of Miss Prism, whereas Lady Bracknell creates lists to further herself in society’s eyes.
Lady Fairfax represents a cross between the two, as she is still very high socially, but does not hold nearly as much disdain for the “simpler” way of life. While she does chastise Cicily for being an unsophisticated woman, it should be noted that she does this under the impression of infidelity. Furthermore, her parallel to Cicily (in terms of mannerisms, world view, and dialogue), displays that society does not determine the quality of person. Ironically, the two both write in diaries and are incredibly vain, further demonstrating the similarities that both classes have.