The Importance of Being Earnest
By Oscar Wilde
In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde uses word play in reference to the word “earnest.” Throughout his play, Wilde focuses on the matter of who is the most sincere or “earnest” and who is actually the person whose name is Ernest. The two main characters, Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing, both claim to be Ernest for deceptive reasons. Wilde develops his characters Algernon and Jack in order to portray them as hypocritical to the definition of earnest, which is “serious in intention, effort, and purpose.” The protagonist of the play, Jack Worthing, calls himself Ernest in town and Jack in the country because he wants to create two identities. He is in charge of his ward, Cecily Cardew and he wants to create a caring and mature image of himself. He tells Cecily that he has an immoral and roguish brother in town named Ernest, who is always in need of saving from the vices of society. However, in town Jack is known as Ernest, because he does not want to be accountable for his behavior which is exactly what he pretends to condone of his “bad brother.” As a result, he has created a respectable reputation for himself. Even so, name changing becomes an issue for Jack in town when he proclaims his love for Gwendolyn Fairfax, Algernon’s cousin, only to find that she loves him because of his name “Ernest.” “The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you.” Jack then decides that he will get a christening in order to officially change his name to Ernest. Although Gwendolyn is concerned with Jack’s name being Earnest, she does not care if Jack is truthful. She says, “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing,” which shows that even though she loves the name Ernest, she is not concerned with Jack being sincere. Jack is depicted as the perfect example of a hypocritical British noble. He claims that he represents duty,...
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