English Literature
The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

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The Superficial Society: A Satirical Reflection in The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde's play, The Importance of Being Earnest, exposes the absurdity and hypocrisy of Victorian Era society. Set in a world where appearances reign supreme and honesty takes a back seat, the play satirizes the rigid moral standards and superficial values of the time. Wilde's clever comedic writing highlights the consequences of living a life filled with lies and pretenses.

The play follows the double lives of Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, who both use the identity of Ernest to escape their responsibilities and conform to societal expectations. As members of the Aestheticism movement, Wilde believed that art and beauty could exist for their own sake, without any moral message attached. In The Importance of Being Earnest, he challenges the Victorian Era's obsession with maintaining a facade of morality through satire and witty dialogue.

The plot centers around Jack's fabricated identity as Ernest and his plans to marry Gwendolen Fairfax, Algernon's cousin. However, their plans are hindered by Gwendolen's mother, Lady Bracknell, who sees Jack as an unworthy match for her daughter when she learns of his unknown parentage. Chaos ensues in Act 2 when Algernon arrives at Jack's estate pretending to be Ernest, and the lies start to unravel.

The Proposal and Revelation

As Jack prepares to change out of his mourning attire, Algernon takes the opportunity to propose to Cecily, who he believes to be Jack's ward. To his surprise, Cecily reveals that they are already engaged - but to someone named Ernest. She has been infatuated with the name and believes that she has been betrothed to "Ernest" for months. In order to truly become Ernest, Algernon decides to get rechristened.

Meanwhile, Gwendolen unexpectedly pays a visit to Jack and has tea with Cecily in the garden. Unaware of each other's identities or their shared relationship with Jack, the two women engage in a competition of manners. When the truth is revealed that they are both engaged to "Ernest," the tea party quickly turns sour.

The Confession and Reconciliation

Determined to win back their respective love interests, Jack and Algernon reveal their deception and plan to officially become Ernest. However, their schemes are thwarted when Lady Bracknell arrives. She once again forbids Gwendolen and Cecily from marrying the two men until a surprising revelation about Cecily's wealth changes Lady Bracknell's mind.

The Importance of Being Earnest serves as a timeless commentary on the dangers of prioritizing appearances over sincerity and the absurdity of societal expectations. Through sharp humor and clever satire, Wilde exposes the folly of living a life based on deceit and false identities, leaving the audience with a poignant reflection on the true value of honesty and authenticity.

The Characters of "The Importance of Being Earnest"

In Oscar Wilde's play, "The Importance of Being Earnest," a comedic story of love and deception unfolds. At its core, the plot centers around John (Jack) Worthing, a foundling who lives a double life of responsibility and rebellion, and his friends and family, who are all intertwined in a farcical series of events. Let's take a closer look at the characters and their roles in this entertaining tale.

  • John Worthing: Known to his friends as Jack, he was found as a baby in a handbag and raised by a kind gentleman in the country. Jack leads a double life as the serious and moral owner of an estate in Hertfordshire, and the fun-loving Ernest, who frequently visits London for wild adventures.
  • Algernon Moncrieff: Jack's friend, who also goes by the name Ernest. Algernon is quick-witted and charming, but he also has a rebellious side, using his fictitious chronically ill friend as an excuse to avoid social obligations.
  • Gwendolen Fairfax: Algernon's cousin and Lady Bracknell's daughter, Gwendolen is in love with Jack, who she knows as Ernest. She is also enamored with the name Ernest and embodies sophistication and high moral standards.
  • Cecily Cardew: Jack's ward, Cecily becomes infatuated with the idea of Ernest, Jack's imaginary brother. She is drawn to the name and reputation of Ernest, imagining a passionate romance with him and believing they are already engaged.
  • Lady Bracknell: Gwendolen's mother and Algernon's aunt, Lady Bracknell is a snobbish and aristocratic woman who values appearances over substance. She desires for Gwendolen to marry someone of high social standing.

The Genre of "The Importance of Being Earnest"

Oscar Wilde's play, "The Importance of Being Earnest," is a one-of-a-kind combination of a romantic comedy and a comedy of manners. While it contains the key elements of a romantic comedy, Wilde adds his trademark satire to highlight the shallowness and absurdity present in the story's love affairs.

Moreover, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is a prime example of a comedy of manners, a type of play that exposes and ridicules social norms. With clever dialogue and unexpected plot twists, Wilde satirizes the hypocrisy and foolishness of Victorian society, particularly their views on marriage, class, and morality.

  • Comedy of manners: a type of play that exposes and ridicules social norms.

Throughout the play, Wilde uses satire to unmask the characters and reveal their true selves. For example, Lady Bracknell initially judges potential suitors based on their wealth and social status, but when she discovers one of them is rich, her opinion changes abruptly. This exposes the superficiality and emphasis on respectability in Victorian society.

Wilde's clever mockery of the Victorian obsession with respectability is a recurring theme in the play. He highlights how wealth, family background, and maintaining appearances were deemed more crucial than genuine character and morals.

The motif of deception is also prominent in "The Importance of Being Earnest," as the characters continuously manipulate and deceive one another. For instance, Jack pretends to be Ernest to gain Lady Bracknell's approval and marry her daughter. However, when his true identity is revealed, his dishonesty is exposed, further emphasizing Wilde's critique of the duplicity and hypocrisy in Victorian high society.

The play also highlights the absurdity of marriage in Victorian society, as seen through Lady Bracknell's dismissive attitude towards her daughter's love for Jack. She values social status and lineage above all else, even if it means sacrificing love. However, when Jack's true identity is revealed, he suddenly becomes a suitable suitor because of his newfound connection to Lady Bracknell.

The Duality of Identities in "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde

Set in Victorian England, "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde satirizes the foolishness of societal norms and the absurdity of striving for respectability through deception.

Key Takeaways

  • Oscar Wilde wrote "The Importance of Being Earnest" in 1895.
  • The play consists of three acts and combines elements of romantic comedy and comedy of manners.
  • The story follows two men, Jack and Algernon, as they maintain dual identities in order to gain societal approval.
  • The play critiques the Victorian society's focus on respectability, hypocrisy, and marriage.


  1. Wilde, Oscar. "The Importance of Being Earnest." 1895.
  2. Laws, Delanie. "The Importance of Being Earnest: Aestheticism, Performance and The Importance of Being Earnest." British Literature Wiki, University of Delaware, 2018.


  • Who wrote "The Importance of Being Earnest"? The play was written by the renowned playwright, Oscar Wilde.
  • How many acts are there in the play? "The Importance of Being Earnest" is divided into three acts.
  • What genre does it fall under? While incorporating elements of both romantic comedy and comedy of manners, "The Importance of Being Earnest" can be classified as a comedy.
  • What is the main message of the play? The play critiques the superficiality and hypocrisy promoted by Victorian society.

The Hypocrisy of Dual Lives in Victorian Society

In "The Importance of Being Earnest," Wilde explores the theme of living double lives during the Victorian era. The main characters, Jack and Algernon, both members of the upper class, maintain two identities in order to gain societal approval. However, their deception ultimately leads to comical consequences.

As they live secret lives under the name of Ernest, Jack and Algernon use their alter egos to fulfill their desires. Jack seeks to appear more responsible and serious, while Algernon rebels against societal expectations and finds entertainment in his double life. However, their schemes start to unravel when their love interests, Gwendolen and Cecily, discover the truth.

The women, fixated on marrying a man named Ernest, are outraged when they learn the truth about Jack and Algernon's dual lives. Their deceit is exposed, and the men are forced to confront the consequences of their actions. Despite their disappointment, Gwendolen and Cecily ultimately forgive their suitors.

This comedic play highlights the absurdity of striving for respectability through deception and mocks the societal norms of Victorian England. Wilde's clever use of humor and wit serves as a commentary on the flaws of Victorian society and its obsession with maintaining a facade of respectability.

In conclusion, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is a cautionary tale that exposes the consequences of living dual lives and trying to conform to societal expectations. The play ultimately teaches the lesson that true respectability can only be achieved through being true to oneself, rather than through deceit and pretense.

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