Oscar Wilde’s art of characterization in every play is remarkable. The most famous character that he has ever created is Lady Bracknell in his best play The Importance of Being Earnest. He knows that being a playwright he has not too many options; therefore, he has relied on his characters to portray his desired themes. He also starizes his own people and society through his characters. Lady Bracknell is among those special characters, which he created just for the purpose of satire. It is worth mentioning that Oscar Wilde sketches other characters too very minutely in this play, apart from her.
Lady Bracknell is the major character of The Importance of Being Earnest. She gets good attention from the audience at the start of the play when she enters on stage. There is no denying the opinions of critics that without her, the play would have become boring and people may have lost their interest in it. The playwright very skillfully embroidered her character. In fact, it is not wrong to say that he has made her a tool to amuse the audience and to create satire to show the foolishness of his people. The dramatist creates a balanced effect of amusement and satire in this play through her character.
Major reason behind writing and producing The Importance of Being Earnest was to ridicule the upper class people of Victorian society in order to reform them. Oscar Wilde uses Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest for this purpose, who is representative of the upper Victorian class of Wilde’s era. She is also known as Aunt Augusta. She is Algernon’s aunt and Gwendolen’s mother. Her only wish that the writer has made obvious in this play is to get her daughter married to a rich person. The playwright has portrayed her as a lady with good taste in fashion. None of the characters in this play likes her; however, she is very talkative due to which she amuses the audience. Good wealth and the flow of money have made her ruthless.
An analysis of The Importance of Being Earnest reveals that the playwright sketches Lady Bracknell either to show the snobbery of Victorian Class or to create humor for the audience. Needless to mention that Oscar Wilde has fulfilled both these objectives (satire and humor) through her character as there is no denying the opinions of critics that the play shows the hypocrisy of aristocratic society. Many incidents are there, which proves her snobbery; one of them is the incident when she rejects Jack for Gwendoline but subsequently accepts him after knowing that he has good fortune.
Lady Bracknell is the most important character to portray the theme of double standards in The Importance of Being Earnest. She is a selfish lady and always prefers materialistic things. Apparently, she seems like a serious and respectable lady at the start of the play; however, soon the audience realizes her foolishness, her arrogant behavior and her class consciousness as well as double standards. The playwright describes Victorian manners to aware her people about their absurdities; therefore, she is the representative of the usual old ladies of the upper class. She is an old lady; however, her age has not been made apparent in this play.
When Gwendolen tells her that she has been engaged to Mr. Worthing. She refuses her engagement while saying that she (Gwendolen) is not engaged to anyone and if she is then her mother and father would inform her of the fact. It means that opinions of other people have no value in her eyes. She further denies her engagement while stating that an engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It means that she would first engage her daughter with someone and thereafter tell her daughter about the man whom she is going to marry. She would surprise her daughter and the surprise would be an arranged groom for her by her parents. Indeed, Lady Bracknell is the spokesperson of Victorian society in The Importance of Being Earnest and the playwright has raised voice against such norms of his society through her character.
Lady Bracknell sheds light on the lifestyle of all the ladies of her era in The Importance of Being Earnest. It is also a matter of fact that the play does not depict both sides of Victorian society; rather, it shows us only the negative side. Nowhere in the play, the audience sees her positive behavior. Perhaps, it does not exist due to which the playwright has not bothered to portray it.
In addition, the playwright shows that wealth has its own importance; Lady Bracknell wants a wealthy son-in-law. Proud of class and wealth are her two major characteristics. She wishes that Gwendoline should follow her and she should also grabb money instead of truly falling in love with anyone. She herself has married a person who was wealthy. In fact, she has married him only because of his wealth. She is against the romance between Gwendoline and Jack. Jack is not in the list of men that she has prepared for her daughter’s marriage. She does not mind it adding Jack’s name in the list but jack has to “produce at least one parent, of either sex, before the season is quite over”.
On one occasion, she says she is not in favor of long engagements and the reason she gives for this is that people come closer to each other and find each other’s character, which she thinks is never acceptable before marriage. She has her own world where she lives and creates her own rules. It is another skill of Oscar Wilde that stuck the audience to their seats until the end of the play. She is also a tool to increase interest in the play.
Lady Bracknell, being representative of upper class/Victorian society, performs a negative role in The Importance of Being Earnest. She has been sketched as a greedy and fashion conscious lady. In that age, when people become wise, she has become foolish; however, she acknowledges the importance of money. She has prepared a list of people who are wealthy and is going to interview them to select a rich husband for her daughter. She rejects Jack because his parentage is unknown. In her eyes, if her daughter solemnizes marriage with Jack, it would disrespect her. In short, she is a narrow-minded, conservative, and ruthless woman.