The Hypocrisy of Being Earnest

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The Hypocrisy of Being Earnest

The Victorian era was a time of smugness and pomposity for the newly rich generation who quickly rose in class during and after the industrial revolution. Nothing was as it seemed in this day when earnestness was allegedly the most prized attribute a man could possess. In Oscar Wilde’s classical satire, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” every character embodies the ideas and values of this “earnest” age.

Oscar Wilde’s primary character in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Jack, spouts hypocrisy when his mouth is open, and sometimes when it is closed. At first impression, Jack seems to be a true gentleman. Indeed, the beginnings of his conversation with Algernon in the opening scene proves just that, but when the subject of his travels back and forth from the city to the country is brought up, Jack makes excuses and hastily changes the subject to more lighthearted topics like cucumber sandwiches (890). But very soon Algernon broaches the subject of “Bunburying,” to Jack’s ignorance. Little does this kindly gentleman know, however, that he is in fact “one of the most advanced Bunburyists (Algernon) know(s)” (894). The explanation Algernon receives from his questions is simply that Jack is Ernest in town, and Jack in the country. Perhaps Jack who is Ernest is not as earnest as he seems? Algernon certainly thinks so. He produces a cigarette case belonging to Jack with the inscription “From little Cecily with her fondest love” (892). At which point, Jack says that it is very ungentlemanly to read someone else’s cigarette case. If Jack is so concerned about being gentlemanly, then why is he, as Algernon puts it, a “Bunburyist?” Only a few lines later, Jack says to Algernon: “My dear Algy, you talk exactly as if you were a dentist. It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn’t a dentist. It produces a false impression” (893). This statement condemns him as a dreadful hypocrite to attentive readers. Jack...
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