Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest Essay

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Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest

Webster’s dictionary defines earnest as “characterized by or proceeding from an intense and serious state of mind.” This definition is subject to total upheaval by Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest. The title suggests a treatise on the value of solemnity in everyday life. However, Wilde presents us with an ironic play that leaves us with the opposite lesson. None of the characters benefit from propriety. The least serious characters, Algernon and Jack are rewarded in the end for their frivolous behavior throughout the play, implying that there is very little, if any, importance to being earnest, excepting that you give the appearance of such, for example the name.
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Since his name is not in fact Ernest the value of the word begins to lose its meaning. If Jack is the most earnest looking person, the most serious person, and lies about even his name, then who can in fact have an earnest personality? As if to add to the absurdity of the name and its connotation, Jack tells Algernon, “It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn’t a dentist. It produces a false impression.” (Act I p.15) The explicit nature of Jack’s statement, that it is vulgar to give the impression of someone who you are not, for example claiming your name is Ernest, contributes to the impression that both men are invested in taking themselves and, perhaps their lives as lightly as possible. As the play goes on, the audience, or reader quickly comes to understand that nothing that claims to be serious can actually be considered so. The word and its definition can not be applied to any person or situation.

Jack’s explanation of his dual personality does nothing to lessen the irony of his situation. When he is in the city, wooing Gwendolen, his name, but not his demeanor, is Ernest. However, when he is at home where “one has to adopt a very moral tone on all subjects” (Act I, p. 18) he keeps the name Jack, which has no relation to the propriety he says he must assume. Gwendolen later tells his ward, (the reason for his country demeanor) that “Ernest has a strong upright nature. He is the very soul of truth and honour. Disloyalty
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