Identity As A Name In The Importance Of Being Earnest

830 words - 4 pages

Wilde uses Gwendolen’s and Cecily’s obviously superficial affection towards each other to again accentuate and criticize the importance that the Victorian’s placed on an individual’s name. The practice of naming others as a means to display one’s own dominance is satirized by the irony in the argument between the two young ladies. The audience detects that they are undoubtedly fighting over Ernest as well as superiority, but their true feelings are ironically hidden (rather poorly) under fake earnestness. Garland states that, “both women attempt to define the existence of their opponent through rapidly shifting expression of Identity” (272), and cause a quiet fire in the atmosphere of the ...view middle of the document...

Since Earnestness is “a virtue to which the Victorians attached the utmost significance” (Bromige 1), Wilde is able to expose Victorian society by implying that their esteemed virtue is a fraud. Another interpretation of these two women’s illogical inclination to the name Ernest is related to Wilde’s implication that they are denied earnestness by the high society they were born into. Because Cecily and Gwendolen only know a superficial world in which they see no evidence of genuine earnestness, they seek earnestness the only way they know how to: through artificial identity.
The dilemma of false identity and the wrestle involved in pretending to be someone else versus allowing one’s true nature to emanate at the expense of societal acceptance was a burden that Wilde himself battled with. According to Bromige, “the biographical details are closely connected with the art of Wilde and with The Importance of Being Ernest, a play in which a number of characters lead double lives” (1). Because “[Wilde], like many apparently heterosexual men, also had sex with men” (Bromige 1), he was doomed to live a double life because he couldn’t let the judgmental society he was born into know he was homosexual. The secrets of the Victorian Era were well concealed and led to false identities and reputations. Since Wilde felt this to the extreme is his personal life, it is profoundly reflected in his play, The Importance of Being Earnest.
Wilde has a distinct interpretation of Victorian society and uses the play to comically expose his criticism. The names allocated to each character...

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