Not Being Earnest in The Importance of Being Earnest

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Not Being Earnest in The Importance of Being Earnest

While some critics contend that The Importance of Being Earnest is completely fanciful and has no relation to the real world, others maintain that Oscar Wilde's "trivial comedy for serious people" does make significant comments about social class and the institution of marriage. These observations include the prevalent utilization of deceit in everyday affairs. Indeed the characters and plot of the play appear to be entirely irreverent, thus lending weight to the comedic, fanciful aspect. However, this same factor also serves to illuminate the major points that Wilde tries to convey about the English society in which he lived.

Throughout the course of the play, Wilde portrays each of the main characters in a way that reflects his views of the English aristocracy. Algernon Moncrieff and Jack(Ernest) Worthington represent the prototypical male bachelors. In the opening act, set in Algernon's flat, the two meet and display what appears to be their usual daily activities. Neither is employed, and it is apparent that their only occupation is the pursuit of leisure activities and social matters, subjects of major importance to them. When Algernon inquires as to the purpose of Ernest's visit to town, Ernest replies, "Oh pleasure, pleasure! What else should bring anyone anywhere? Eating as usual, I see Algy!". Algeron and Ernest are characterized by their extravagance, a luxury affordable only because of the money accrued from family inheritance. Neither displays any notion of an appreciation for money. In fact, when Algern...

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...nates in the planning of marriages of Ernest to Gwendolyn and Algy to Cecily. These marriages are made available only because Jack (Ernest) discovers his true identity as one belonging to the Bracknell family. When this is established, Ernest is allowed to marry Gwendolyn and it seems as though he will allow Cecily to marry Algernon. However, the identity Ernest discovers is the same that he has lied about throughout the entire play. Thus, the relationships forged arbitrarily on deceit and convenience is legitimated at the end of the play. Although Ernest declares, "I've realized now for the first time in my life the vital importance of Being Earnest", the statement is actually ironic because he had never been earnest at any point. In fact, the end is only the result of a coincidental twist of fate.

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