In Oscar Wilde’s satire, The Importance of Being Earnest, he engages the audience with a profound amount of conflicting dialogue starting with the title. The importance of being Ernest is quite a different meaning than the importance of being earnest. Wilde demonstrates a considerable amount of wit to unfold the importance of being both Ernest and earnest.
The play centers on a young man named Jack, who incidentally has created an alter ego, Ernest, in order to frequent the aristocratic high life of London. Jack has become smitten with an upper class socialite called Gwendolen. While Gwendolen is just as taken with Jack, whom she knows as Ernest, it is much for his name sake. She explains, “My ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence” (Earnest Act 1). Gwendolen’s cousin Algernon introduced the starry eyed couple not knowing that Ernest’s character was not a reflection of his given name.
As the story proceeds it is revealed to Algernon that Ernest is in truth Jack and the ward of a young lady by the name Cecily, whom Algernon develops a curiosity about. Jack tells Algernon how he created his troubled younger brother’s persona , Ernest, so that he can escape from the country in order to be in the city, Algernon describes his own deceitful creation of an invalid that he refers to as Bunbury, which he uses as a noble pardon to dismiss himself from the city to the country.
Algernon, excuses himself on an important visit to an urgently ill, and quite fictional, Bunbury, to visit with Cecily. When introduced he explains that he is Jack’s misguided brother Ernest. Cecily, all too excited about meeting Ernest, is immediately fawning over Algernon, for the sake of his name being Ernest mostly.
It becomes an increasingly hard ordeal for both men to be Ernest, and increasingly hard for both men to not be earnest, when Gwendolen appears to visit Jack and is introduced to Cecily. As the ladies talk they become aware that they are both engaged to Ernest who is neither Jack nor Algernon, nor earnest.
The two men are a pair of contradictions. Both men claim the name of Ernest and both are masterfully deceitful. “The obsession with the name, and so with form, lies at the play’s core, alongside with the art of lying” (Raby). While Algernon is completely unserious and trivial, Jack does seem to take things a bit more serious. In any case, both men have character traits that would not line up well with the name Ernest, but fit quite nicely with the dialogue of the rest of the cast in terms of oxymoron and sarcasm.
The dictionary defines the word earnest as serious, sincere, not lighthearted or playful. Contrary to what the play signifies. Felicia Ruf of Wagner College describes it has “an exaggerated sensibility” and “with a delicate mixture of refinement and fearlessness.” Ernest the character lives a double-life in the play. Ernest claims to be “Ernest in town...