In A Woman of No Importance, Wilde explores the moral attitudes of the aristocratic Victorian society towards social status and class, moral values, roles of men and women, and the relationships between them. The section in Act 3 is important as involves all of these issues, shown through characters such as Gerald, Lord Illingworth, Mrs Allonby and Hester. As well as the use of these characters, language and stage craft is also used to reveal Wilde’s views and criticisms of the upper class society. These criticisms include the use of masks, immoral behaviour and hypocrisy.
We are aware of the Victorian obsession with status and class through the presentation of Gerald’s ambitions. Gerald is a character who aspires to become a person of high social status, in order to propose to Hester. His desires are based on the conventional Victorian ideas of class and social status, one of his main influences being Lord Illingworth: “As Lord Illingworth says, it is impossible to live in such a place as Wrockley. ” He is “ambitious” and wants more than what he currently has living with his mother.
One of the main reasons for this ambition is so that he can propose to Hester: “And if I had a position, if I had prospects, I could – I could ask her to -” Gerald is convinced that to marry Hester, he will have to reach a higher social status. The use of repetition and the false starts “I could – I could” show us Gerald’s passion, emphasising how important it is for him to obtain that social status in order to achieve both a career and a wife. Through Gerald, Wilde shows how obsessive the upper class Victorian society were about one’s status.
These conventional ideas of social status can be seen throughout the play, especially in Act 1, through Lady Caroline. Her snobbery and prejudicial behaviour towards people of other class reveals a very arrogant nature, and highlights that fact that, in Victorian society, to earn respect social status was needed. Act 3 is also important as it shows us a clear presentation of Lord Illingworth’s view of the world. There is a clear influence of Lord Illingworth on Gerald, which is shown in comments such as: “He is a man who lives in the world and for it.
Well, I would give anything to be just like Lord Illingworth. ” The appeal of Lord Illingworth to Gerald is from his success, high social status and respect from other members of the upper class Victorian society. By praising Lord Illingworth, Gerald’s ambitions to become highlighted, further emphasising his need to become a “successful” and “fashionable” man like Lord Illingworth, and because of this he questions his mother, and what she has taught him: “You have always tried to crush my ambition, mother, haven’t you?
You have told me that the world is a wicked place, that success is not worth having, that society is shallow, and all that sort of thing – well, I don’t believe it mother. ” Wilde shows us the confliction between Gerald’s ambitions and Mrs Arbuthnot’s morality to reveal the different moral attitudes within the upper class society. Whilst Gerald has high praise for Lord Illingworth who is quite immoral in both his behaviour and comments, Mrs Arbuthnot despises him. It is because of Lord Illingworth that she has been left to bring up Gerald alone.
Men and women in the Victorian society were expected to marry if they wanted to have a relationship, and illegitimate children were frowned upon as it did not adhere to how people of the time were expected to live and behave. Like Mrs Arbuthnot, Hester is a character who is also shown as moral and this is shown through her comments and when she is described as a “puritan”. Aware that she is not like the typical Victorian woman, Hester is drawn to Mrs Arbuthnot: “When you came into the drawing-room this evening, somehow your brought with you a sense of what is good and pure in life. “