English Literature
/
The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

Deceit and Dual Identities: The Satirical Message of "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde

Written during the strict and moralistic Victorian Era (1837-1901), Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest served as a humorous commentary on the societal values of the time. In a society where appearances were valued more than sincerity, Wilde utilized clever satire to expose the hypocrisy and superficiality of Victorian society.

The Cultural and Literary Background

  • Oscar Wilde was a leading figure in the Aestheticism movement, which rejected the Victorian ideals of morality and instead emphasized beauty and art for its own sake.
  • The Victorian Era was defined by rigid societal norms and expectations, causing individuals to prioritize their image rather than their true selves.

Wilde saw this emphasis on maintaining a facade of morality as disingenuous, performed only to gain social status and validation rather than truly living up to moral values.

The Plot of The Importance of Being Earnest

The play follows the story of Jack Worthing, a responsible landowner with a secret: he has been pretending to have a scandalous brother named Ernest in order to escape his duties and indulge in a wild London lifestyle.

Through this alias, Jack meets Algernon Moncrieff, who also leads a double life. As "Ernest," Jack becomes romantically involved with Algernon's cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax. However, Gwendolen's obsession with the name Ernest creates problems for Jack as his true identity is revealed.

As the plot unfolds, Jack's deceptions are exposed, leading to chaos and confusion. Through witty satire, Wilde highlights the absurdity of societal expectations and the pressure to maintain appearances.

The Importance of Being Earnest: A Reflection of Victorian Society

In essence, the play serves as a critique of Victorian society's fixation on outward appearances and disregard for genuine values. Through the actions of his characters and the society's expectations, Wilde exposes the shallow and hypocritical nature of the time period.

In conclusion, The Importance of Being Earnest is a timeless masterpiece that continues to entertain and provoke thought about societal values. With Wilde's clever use of satire and commentary on the Victorian obsession with appearances, this play is a must-read for anyone seeking a humorous and thought-provoking literary experience.

The Unexpected Twists in "The Importance of Being Earnest": A Summary of Act 3

As Jack changes out of his mourning attire, Algernon proposes to Cecily, who mistakenly believes they are already engaged. Cecily, fascinated by Jack's tales of his brother Ernest and the name itself, has created a romantic fantasy with "Ernest" for months. To truly bear the name, Algernon decides to get rechristened.

Unexpectedly, Gwendolen appears at Jack's house (whom she knows as Ernest). Over tea in the garden, Gwendolen and Cecily, unaware of their connection to Jack, chat about their relationship with him. Gwendolen is upset to find out about Cecily, whom she believes is Jack's ward. However, Cecily reveals she is actually Jack's brother's ward and engaged to marry Ernest (Algernon). This causes tension between the two women during the tea party.

As Jack and Algernon arrive, both claiming to be rechristened as Ernest, the women realize they have been deceived and demand to know the whereabouts of the real Ernest Worthing. Jack finally confesses there is no such person, causing Gwendolen and Cecily to storm off together.

Act 3 follows as Jack and Algernon pursue the women to explain themselves. Algernon admits he pretended to be Ernest to woo Cecily, while Gwendolen asks Jack if he lied about having a brother to spend more time with her. In a twist of events, the men decide to be rechristened as Ernest that same day, leading to a happy ending for both couples. However, their joy is short-lived when Lady Bracknell arrives.

Once again, Lady Bracknell forbids Gwendolen to marry Jack and doubts Cecily's suitability as Algernon's bride.

The Intrigue Unravels: A Recap of the Final Act in "The Importance of Being Earnest"

The final act of "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde is full of unexpected revelations and plot twists that tie together the complex web of lies and secrets created by the characters. With Lady Bracknell's sudden change of heart, the truth about Jack's past, and the reveal of his true identity, the play comes to a satisfying and humorous conclusion.

Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing: Throughout the play, the two friends have been living double lives under the names Ernest and Jack. Algernon, known to Jack as Ernest, is a charming troublemaker who pretends to have a sick friend to escape social obligations. Jack, on the other hand, portrays himself as a responsible and ethical gentleman in the country, but a reckless and irresponsible man in London. Their deception is finally exposed in the final act.

Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew: The two women both believe they are engaged to a man named Ernest. Gwendolen is Lady Bracknell's daughter and Algernon's cousin, while Cecily is Jack's ward. Gwendolen is in love with the name Ernest, and Cecily is infatuated with the idea of Jack's non-existent brother. Their shared interest in the name leads to a comical discovery in the final act.

Lady Bracknell and Miss Prism: Lady Bracknell is a snobbish aristocrat who values social status over everything else. In a surprising turn of events, she becomes enthusiastic about Cecily's relationship with Jack upon discovering her wealth. Meanwhile, Miss Prism, Cecily's governess, confesses to a past mistake that has a significant impact on the story's outcome.

The Cast of Characters in "The Importance of Being Earnest"

  • John (Jack) Worthing: A foundling who leads a double life as Ernest in London and Jack in Hertfordshire. He discovers his true identity in the final act, much to everyone's surprise.
  • Algernon Moncrieff: Jack's friend, known to him as Ernest. He is witty and charming, but also a bit of a troublemaker.
  • Gwendolen Fairfax: Lady Bracknell's daughter and Algernon's cousin. She is in love with the name Ernest and embodies the ideals of high society.
  • Cecily Cardew: Jack's ward, infatuated with the idea of Ernest. She creates a romanticized fantasy around him.
  • Lady Bracknell: Gwendolen's mother and Algernon's aunt. She is a snobbish aristocrat who values social status above all else.

The Themes and Lessons in "The Importance of Being Earnest"

"The Importance of Being Earnest" is a brilliant satire that pokes fun at the shallow and hypocritical nature of Victorian society. The play cleverly incorporates elements of both romantic comedy and comedy of manners to highlight the absurdity of societal expectations. Some of the key themes in the play include:

  • Respectability: Lady Bracknell's sudden change of heart when she learns of Cecily's wealth reflects the emphasis placed on social standing in Victorian society.
  • Duplicity: The play's title, with its double meaning of "earnest," is a clever reflection of the characters' duplicitous actions and the hypocrisy of high society.
  • Marriage: Through Lady Bracknell's remarks about Gwendolen's potential connection to a railway station, Wilde highlights the societal expectations surrounding marriage during that time period.

Oscar Wilde masterfully weaves together these themes to create a thought-provoking and entertaining play that continues to captivate audiences over a century later. "The Importance of Being Earnest" is a timeless classic that reminds us to always question societal norms, never take ourselves too seriously, and above all, to be true to ourselves.

<

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime