Type / Thesis

“Toy with that Tiger Life”: The Carnivalesque in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest

Chun-Yi Shih

Page / 33-60


This essay attempts to offer a Bakhtinian reading of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, presenting the carnivalesque in it. The first part points out that Wilde’s principle of creating the farce is to invert so as to subvert, which is also the way laughter operates in carnival. The method of inversion/subversion is mainly employed in language and characterization. The second part explores the multiple identities in the farce; like people wearing masks and playing others in carnival, the characters fictionalize or assume different identities to liberate themselves from the responsibilities and limitations imposed by the society and have different experiences and pleasures. The third part focuses on the young bodies indulging in eating and drinking, the mechanical and symmetrical movements, and the monstrous female image, all of which portray the “grotesque realism” in carnival. The fourth part argues that Earnest is a political farce by elaborating on the parallels between it and Wilde’s political writing, “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” and exposing Wilde’s mockery of and challenge to British hegemony with his Irish humor. By using Bakhtin’s theorization of carnival, the author hopes to provide a research work on the carnivalesque in the renowned and popular farce, with an emphasis on its political subversion.

Keywords : farce, carnivalesque laughter, grotesque realism, utopia, Irish humor
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