September 7, 2005

The Importance of Being Earnest

ALGERNON: Very natural, I am sure. That will do, Lane, thank you.

LANE: Thank you, sir.

[LANE goes out.]

ALGERNON: Lane’s views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.

By definition, ‘earnest’ means, “Marked by or showing deep sincerity or seriousness; With a purposeful or sincere intent.” Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest showcases witty characters who have no regard for their namesake’s meaning: being sincere. The character dupe women and foil friends. In no way are they being honest with one another, or with the ones they love.

They even use bombastically pretentious speech, like Algernon’s comments on classes. Lane, who had been married once – a mistake, serves Algernon. Unfortunately, Algernon can not readily accept Lane’s admitted mistaken marriage – he faults Lane’s entire class of people as having no sense of moral responsibility. Though, later in the work, it is Algernon and his comrade who prove to have no sense of moral obligation to be honest, or earnest, with the women they supposedly love.

This exchange proves to be a foreshadowing to the events that follow. However, it is more than that: it also seemingly illustrates the opinion held by the upper echelon on the morals of the servile class at the time. Later, the work holds that it is the upper class that deviates from shared, known social mores at the time. Algernon and Lane are class and moral foils to one another. Is Wilde trying to comment on the nature of the human species? Despite class, on may have rank moral standards and try to act superior to another. Or is Wilde just illustrating the face of the time? In this, and later exchanges, these questions come to call.

Posted by KatieAikins at September 7, 2005 7:36 AM

I definatly agree with you, Katie. It's very contradicting that although the play is called "The Importance of Being Earnest", no one is really ever earnest at all.

Posted by: Amanda at September 11, 2005 2:14 PM

Oh. I just thought the title was referring to the ridiculous obsession that both Gwendolen and Cecily have with the name Ernest. It's important for Jack and Algernon to have Ernest as their first name or they can't get married.

Algernon and Jack would like to be honest with them but are afraid that they'll lose them if their name wasn't Ernest.

I hadn't even realized that there was a difference between the title and the name Ernest that everyone loves.

Posted by: Kayla Sawyer at September 11, 2005 3:20 PM