Today, Starbucks is revered as the coffee shop of the Gods: lines go out the door, pictures of their lattes flood social media, and consumers make sure the logo is in plain sight wherever they take the cup. However, the coffee does not have a secret ingredient that makes it so special. In fact, the drinks are rather plain and just overloaded with sugar to create the illusion of flavor. However, if a millennial dared to say this out loud and stray from the fad, he would be labeled as eccentric and alienated from his peers.
Lewis Carroll’s “The Lobster-Quadrille” and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest satirize conformity through the fetishization of products of Empire, status, and traditional sexuality in order to characterize society as predictable and corrupt, thus making life a meaningless lie. In order to highlight how society ignores important social issues due to the inconvenience of breaking tradition and finding true self purpose, Carroll criticizes the hypocrisy of British colonization and the absurdity of homosexuals being forced live a double life. The poem is about a lobster who complains of having been “baked… too brown” (3).
When the poem was written, highly negative connotations were associated with being “brown,” meaning Indian, because white supremacy was established though the colonization of India. Since lobsters are rather expensive and upscale, the complaint symbolizes how the elite did not want to associate with dark-skinned workers, as they were at the bottom of the social ladder. In addition, when the lobster mentions he must “sugar [his] hair” (3-4) after having been baked, the sugar is alluding to products of Empire, for sugar was produced by Indian sugarcane and shipped to Britain. Sugar is white, and the lobster wants to look white to maintain uperiority.
This renders colonists as hypocrites: though they exploit both Indian workers and Indian resources to live off fruits of Empire, they want to avoid looking like the people who made the product, as it would be a form of social suicide. Though using skin color to determine status is completely ludicrous, people will not rebel against preset societal standards if it gives them power and makes them feel included. The need to belong is why people fetishize status and elite commodities, thus causing people in power to turn the other cheek when it comes to immoral practices.
If people are constantly obsessing over fitting in and looking perfect to others, they are being dishonest with themselves and missing an opportunity to create meaningful life by standing up for what is right. Later on in the poem, the lobster “trims his belt and his buttons” (6), but his voice becomes “timid and tremulous” (12) the moment sharks are nearby. The image of a well-groomed male lobster implies that the lobster is gay: whereas the average male throws on the first outfit he finds, gay men are typically stylish and detail oriented.
However, the cacophonous alliteration of the words “timid” and “tremulous” capitalizes the lobster’s fear and loss of confidence the moment he enters the outside world. He is forced to forgo his true identity because in 1960s Britain, it was illegal to be homosexual. Not only does succumbing to conformity and society blindly accepting unjust laws make his entire life a lie, but it also proves that the preoccupation with upholding tradition takes away individuality and diversity and other important factors that make life worth living.
Similar to Carroll, Wilde ridicules homophobia fueled by the fetishization of traditional romance, arguing that relationships have lost all authenticity and meaning as a result of the need to conform to the same, stereotypical, novelesque romance. This is exhibited when Gwendolyn tells Jack that she may “marry someone else and marry often” but still have an “eternal devotion” (315) to him. This is a classic cliche-women chasing an exciting and dramatic romance, similar to those of novellas.
Although these experiences may be seemingly passionate, women fetishize the plot so much that the emotions become fake and exaggerated to a point where they are completely lying to themselves to feel as if they are experiencing true love and adventure. In addition, it is unrealistic to feel a significant connection with one’s spouse if one party is unfaithful and having affairs for the selfish purpose of entertainment. Wilde is criticizing the tarnished sanctity of marriage: the oath of loyalty is too often broken, causing it to lose its meaning.
Instead of an actual promise backing it up, vows are just there for show and the sake of following tradition. Moreover, the obsession with conventional heterosexuality provokes the disapproval of homosexual relationships because being gay does not fit in the “utopian” society. This is displayed when Algernon exclaims his frustration for there being “no cucumbers,” “not even for ready money” (304) during his social gathering. Cucumbers symbolize the male genitalia, as the shape exhibits a resemblance, therefore revealing that Algernon is gay.
However, with all the stigma surrounding homosexuality, he must look towards the sex trade to fulfill his intimate desires, as cucumbers “for ready money” is a metaphor for prostitution. This is a jab at homophobia: although society claims being gay is a sin, people are so obsessed with traditional romance and forcing their sexuality among gay people, that homosexuals must to resort to prostitution, which is perhaps more sinful. Sex is supposed to be about true love and sharing a passionate moment in a mutually caring relationship.
However, gay people cannot have this, neither in the public eye nor behind closed doors: one night stands and marriage for the sake of social cover have no true emotion behind them, thus making relationships pointless. These people must conform to a ridiculous standard because even people with a basic sense of human rights are too afraid of alienation to rebel against tradition. Wilde contends that the fixation on social climbing and prestigious titles leads to the disintegration of morality and a significant drop in the quality of life.
This is apparent when Jack admits he smokes, and Lady Bracknell responds that she is glad he has “an occupation of some kind” (308). Since Jack can afford imported tobacco and is rich enough that he does not need an actual job, it proves that he is of high status. Lady Bracknell’s satisfaction with this statement is rather ironic: she wants her daughter to be married into the elite class that can afford luxuries of Empire, yet it is the working class, the people she so desperately wants to avoid associating with, that produce these products in the first place.
The fetishization of the bourgeois lifestyle blinds people from the abused and underpaid workers that make this possible. A disregard for ethics for the sake of appearing rich classifies life as a superficial, fabricated show with no worth in the end. This hypocrisy is further displayed when Miss Prism, Cecily’s teacher, tells her the she may omit the “chapter on the Fall of the Rupee” because “metallic problems have their melodramatic side” (319). The word “metallic” is a malapropism, for the word she meant was “monetary,” as the rupee is Indian currency.
This proves that the upper class is haughty and ignorant because they are too concerned with their own respectability educate themselves and take a stand against racism. Similar to Carroll’s poem, this illuminates the hypocrisy of colonization because the upper class will exploit Indian people and resources, yet will not help them, claiming they are “melodramatic. ” This is rather ironic, as the British are the people making a big deal about using luxurious products while creating a class separation for fear of being labeled as a misfit.
In the end, people simply go through the motions of daily life and pretend to be blissfully unaware: failing to actively make moral decisions and grow as a person makes life meaningless. Despite Wilde’s assertion that society is headed down a path of hypocrisy, superficiality, and diminishing diversity, he claims embracing true identity, even if that means breaking societal customs, will create a brighter future. For example, the inversion of traditional values is apparent when Jack compliments Gwendolyn’s appearance and she retorts that she is “always smart” (303). The word “smart” is a double entendre.
On one hand, it means good looks: Gwendolyn is exhibiting confidence in her beauty and not being coy about it, thus exhibiting a prime example of feminism and women fearlessly embracing who they are without the need for a man’s approval. On the other hand,”smart” means knowledgeable. Gwendolyn is hinting at Jack that she is more than a pretty face, for behind her makeup is an astute and intelligent woman. In any case, modesty is being ridiculed, and Wilde is suggesting that being forward, opinionated, and diverging from what society expects of women will lead to a more authenticity and open-mindedness.
In addition to women being true to themselves, Wilde suggests the gay men should do the same, the first step being the ability to eat “muffins in his own garden” (341). “Muffins” is a sexual innuendo referring to the male gluteus maximus. Therefore, eating such muffins in one’s “own garden” is a metaphor for practicing sexuality in one’s own home. This is a vast improvement from having to resort to prostitution to be sexually satisfied: in this case, there is a safe haven where it is okay and not sinful to be different.
Wilde is arguing that this is the first step to a more accepting society. As time passes, homosexuality will slowly be introduced outside the home, becoming more and more prevalent until it is finally accepted as normal. Wilde once said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all. ” However, it is possible to live when people vocalize their true feelings and not allow labels like “eccentric” or “misfit” bother them. People must unite and rebel when a pre-established convention violates human rights in order to live a meaningful life.