Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest Essay

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Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest"

In the closing lines of the first act of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," Algernon remarks, "I love scrapes. They are the only things that are never serious," to which Jack responds, "Oh, that's nonsense Algy. You never talk about anything but nonsense." Algernon caps off this exchange with a proclamation of the purpose of the whole work: "Nobody ever does" (1642). Wilde never allows anything in the work to conclude on a serious note. While Wilde repeatedly proclaims this direction for the play through his characters, he does not tell us the motivation for this direction. He never explains why there is this avoidance of earnestness. The most apparent answer lies in
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While Wilde's ironic look at nineteenth-century Victorian England is funny, it is on the higher, abstract level that Wilde's work is unified and gains lasting and a-historical significance.

The paradox is not something that is easily sustained or drawn out because of its inherent contradiction. Wilde relies upon fine tuned pacing to sustain his use of paradox and to allow for a vehicle between paradox. Wilde's use of these techniques is especially exaggerated in the first scenes of the first and third acts, where the characters of Jack and Lady Bracknell (Aunt Augusta) are particularly utilized by Wilde.

The most fundamental element of Wilde's use of paradox lies in the paradoxical epigrams that pepper the work. In the first act we immediately see these in use. Jack tells Algernon that when he is in the country he amuses his neighbors, but then volunteers, "[I] Never speak to one of them," to which Alegernon responds, "How immensely you must amuse them" (1630). The idea of amusing someone to whom you do not even talk is quickly dismissed as Wilde moves on. A few minutes later in the action, Algernon warns Jack to take care in his marital plans: "Well, in the first place girls never marry the men they flirt with. Girls don't think it right." Before answering who exactly it is that girls do marry, Wilde moves the characters to a new scenario that brings Algernon to
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