Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest, is set in the English society during the turn of the Twentieth Century. At this point in English history, social class was a crucial concept in English history. There was a rigid class structure with the aristocracy controlling social standards. Other classes, such as the working class, and the developing middle class, could never become a part of the upper class. The aristocracy were a closed circle and married almost exclusively amongst themselves. The play discusses many of these issues as an importance concept.
In Victorian society, individuals focused on rigid social morality; this was particularly expected of the upper class. The upper class and aristocracy were expected to set a moral example for the lower classes. By nature of being wealthy and upper class, one was expected to also be a moral individual. However, the characters lack serious morality, including the ability to be earnest or serious. Earnestness was expected of individuals, since it was considered to be a virtue. The play’s title indicates that this was considered to be something of value; however, the play mocks itself as a trivial matter. This would not be acceptable to Victorians, who would consider this beneath their dignity.
The play also focuses on whether or not people are serious or shallow. In Act I, Algernon declares that “you must be serious about it. I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them”. In this manner, he indicates that one should be serious about something that really is not a serious matter. Algernon makes fun of the need for the upper class Victorians to be serious about everything. Wilde creates a play in which the characters try to be serious and staid, but truly are not. This is an indictment of upper class morality and their need to set an example for the lower classes. If anyone should be serious about meals, it would be the lower class due to their poverty.