Importance Of Being Earnest Society Essay

The Importance of Being Earnest: Victorian Society

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Oscar Wilde’s satirical depiction of Victorian Society in The Important of Being Earnest comments on the absurdity of their inability to recognize the difference between the important and unimportant. Characters in the play often make trivial matters into serious matters and vice versa, although there are times where issues are treated appropriately. However, the whole idea of what is important is subjective, and in a Victorian Era context, matters such as social status and proper etiquette were considered important. Serious issues such as death, deception of identity and the lost child confusion are regarded in a trivial manner.

In contrast, more trivial affairs such as the name Ernest, the breaking of an engagement and food are treated serious. Wilde’s uses the inversion of what is serious and trivial to ridicule Victorian Society and their morals and values. The characters in The Importance of Being Earnest often treat serious issues as trivial matters. The act of “bunburying” involves deception and fraud and is carried out by Algy and Jack without any guilt or regard for consequences. Deception of identify is a criminal offence, however Algy justifies “bunburying” by saying to Jack “It it wasn’t for Bunbury…

I wouldn’t of been able to dine with you at Willis’ tonight,” and “A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time with it”. In addition to “bunburying”, another serious issue treated trivially is death. The seriousness of death is taken light-heartedly in the play. Rather than associating death with grieving and suffering, these characters portray death as a method of conveniently eliminating unwanted people, whether imaginary or not. Jack tells Algy, “If Gwendolen accepts me, I am going to kill my brother” because “Cecily is a little too much interested in him. ” When Algernon tells L.

B. “poor Bunbury died this afternoon” because “he was quite exploded”, L. B. quickly fires back by stating, “he is well punished for his morbidity. ” The complete disregard for the consequences and feelings associated with death demonstrate how the characters treat this important issue trivially. The characters in the play also address trivial matters in a serious manner. The name Ernest is very important in the play, both as a plot device and the basis of Gwendolen and Cecily’s initial love. Early on, Gwendolen states that her “ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. Cecily’s love for the name Ernest is just as shallow. She pities “married woman whose husband is not called Ernest. ” Earnestness implies seriousness and sincerity, which reflects the attitude the characters have in respect to the name Ernest, with both Gwendolen and Cecily loving the name Ernest, and both Jack and Algy wanting to change their name to Ernest. However, a name itself is a very trivial thing. As William Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “Whats in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

A name does not define the person’s personality or values, however the triviality of the name Ernest is taken out of proportions and treated very seriously in the play. To conclude, Wilde satirises Victorian Society by inverting serious and trivial matters. Serious issues treated trivially, and trivial issues treated seriously create humour while simultaneously allowing Wilde to comment on the absurdity nature of Victorian morals and values. As the subtitle of the play sums it up, The Importance of Being Earnest is “a trivial comedy for serious people. “

The Importance of Being Earnest: Victorian Society

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Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in “The Importance of Being Earnest” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1 : The Importance of Being Earnest as a Morality Play

Oscar Wilde lived and wrote during the Victorian era, a time characterized by an emphasis on strict moral values. One can argue that The Importance of Being Earnest is a morality play, for its lesson to the reader is that honesty is always the best policy. Although the lesson is an obvious one that reinforces the values of Wilde’s day, there is much about the play that is not conventional. Wilde’s skill and success lay in the fact that he was able—through the use unconventional images and relationships—to create an engaging story that reinforced dominant social values.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2 : What is Earnestness, Anyway? The Meaning of “Earnest”

As the title of the play states directly, it is important to be earnest. Yet it seems that the characters in the play do not agree exactly about what earnestness is. Furthermore, while they generally agree that earnestness is important, they go about embodying it—or failing to do so—in diverse ways; lying, being hypocritical, etc. In this essay, two characters and their respective definitions of and approaches to earnestness will be compared and contrasted. By examining the different definitions of earnestness, the writer will offer an argument about what the author defined as earnest and why he believed this quality was important.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3 The Alter Ego of Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest

Any character analysis of Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest should note that he is a man who, in his “real" life, is shouldered with numerous responsibilities as an upstanding citizen of society. Interestingly, he creates an alter ego for himself, a character whom he calls Ernest, an obvious play on words that emphasizes the meaning of the title, The Importance of Being Earnest. Ernest is everything that Jack is not: exciting yet irresponsible. Over the course of the play, the tension of embodying two disparate personalities becomes unbearable, but the more Jack tries to be earnest and less Ernest, the more complicated his relationships become. Ultimately, he learns that he is Ernest, a change of name that also suggests a change of identity. When this information is revealed, it seems that Jack can finally embrace who he is: a complex character with facets of responsibility and, in equal measure, irresponsibility.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4 : Gender Roles in The Importance of Being Earnest

The male and female characters in The Importance of Being Earnest all fulfill Victorian gender stereotypes. Jack (in the guise of Ernest) and Algernon are Victorian dandies, bachelors who indulge freely in the good life. Gwendolen is the very paragon of Victorian femininity, and is so superficial that she declares she refuses to marry a man whose name is not Ernest. In this essay, the rigidity of gender roles, both for men and for women, and examined, and the effect of the inflexibility of these roles is analyzed.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5 : Jack’s Likeability in The Importance of Being Earnest

In many respects, Jack is a thoroughly likeable character. He is a man of responsibility and respectability, and he is well-liked by others. His alter ego, however, casts his likeability into doubt and as the reader quickly learns, he embodies the hypocrisy that is in question throughout the play. By examining the two aspects of Jack’s self, one can argue that Jack becomes less likeable because he is inauthentic. While one may empathize with his struggle to reconcile a part of himself about which he is ashamed, such empathy does not make Jack more endearing to the reader. Instead, he is profoundly flawed because he continues the charade even when it is clear it is no longer sustainable.

* Click here for a that looks at a few other themes in The Importance of Being Earnest in conjunction with a related work of drama *

This list of important quotations from “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “The Importance of Being Earnest” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes from “The Importance of Being Earnest” alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Oscar Wilde they are referring to.

“You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come to town as often as you like." (7)

“We live, as I hope you know… in an age of ideals." (11)

“[M]y ideal has always been to marry some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence." (11)

“[G]irls never marry the men they flirt with. Girls don’t think it right." (16)

“It is a very ungentlemanly thing to read a private cigarette case." (16)

“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his." (17)

“I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever now-a-days. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left." (17)

“If Gwendolen accepts me, I am going to kill my brother, indeed, I think I’ll kill him in any case." (19-20)

“A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it." (20)

“Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?" (59)


Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. Cheswold, DE: Prestwick House, 2005


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