AP English IV
28 October 2012
The Importance of Being Earnest
The Importance of Being Earnest is a play by Oscar Wilde that can be viewed as a satire on the moral compass of people living in the Victorian era. The moral standards of the time held the ideas of sincerity and honesty on a high pedestal. To be Earnest would most likely fall between the two ideals; the first definition of the word earnest is “Serious in intention, purpose, or effort” and this can be a trait attributed to both John/Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff due to their dedication and effort that is put into living their double lives without trouble, however, now is not the time to be speaking of the two men. Another definition is “Showing depth and sincerity of feeling” when used as an adjective earnest can be used to describe anyone who shows passion and dedication in their work, an artist, for example, can be describes as earnest, using the canvas or the paper before them as a display of their true feelings and also as a means of showing just how much effort is put into something that takes time. Earnest implies having a purpose and being steadily and soberly eager in pursuing it. Throughout the play, the characters encompass this thought; it is the driving force between any and all actions the characters commit. However, the connection between Earnest, the assumed name Jack uses in the city, and the word earnest itself are almost entirely contradicting. The Earnest in the city is supposed to be Jack’s brother, who only commits the most sensual of actions, and is described as a man of many follies and vices, while he truly is not, simply the action of pretending to be a man by the name of Earnest defies the meaning of the word earnest. Other ways to restate the title of this play would be “The Importance of Being Honest” or “The Importance of Being Sincere” and in the end, the idea of being sincere becomes the main point Wilde seems to highlight. The entire scheme not only blows up in Jack’s face, but also in the face of Algernon, who goes out to the country to “Bunbury” or lie. Though the title speaks of the importance of being the man, Earnest, the end speaks of the adjective. To be earnest is to be truthful, and while it seems that is not the case with Algernon and Jack, in the end at least one was, unknowingly of course, telling the truth. This of course brings the point across to both Jack and Algernon. Jack, or John, or well, Earnest Worthing- the main character- is a man of unfortunate, but fortunate circumstances. He is known as Earnest in the city and Jack in the Country. Jack keeps his personal life just that, personal, the details are left far from his friend Algernon who seems to become interested in his private life at the mention of his ward, Cecily Cardrew. Clearly, Jack has ulterior motives for being Earnest in the city, that is, of course, to win the heart and the hand of Gwendolyn Bracknell, Algernon’s cousin. His dishonesty was merely a ploy to land the woman of his dreams, who he holds so dear he even plans to kill off his fictional brother Jack, simply to stay with Gwendolyn, of course, his proposal is honest, and she is the love of his life. However, he drops that part of the plan when he asks Gwendolyn if she would still love him if his name was not Earnest and it was Jack, she of course says that she would not, for loving a man named Jack would be bland. This shows his earnestness, his dedication to Miss Bracknell, and his seriousness on the subject of marriage. He plans to go back to the country to be christened under the name Earnest as soon as possible, he is dedicated to making Gwendolyn happy, and in this sense, is an earnest man. However, his friend Algernon is not, and by using his slyness, he over hears the address of Jack’s country home, of course this is to meet the lovely and innocent Cecily Cardrew, Jack’s ward. The two men live double lives, but rather than being Bunbury, Algernon...