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Importance Of Being Earnest Identity Essay

People in the upper class accomplish nothing with their time and in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” all of the upper class characters exhibit this. Algernon for example, spends his time eating and pretending to be another person. His wealth allows him to spend time not only in the city, but also in the country as a person of his own creation, Bunbury. Not to mention, every where he goes food is always present. First there is cucumber sandwiches, which were gotten for his Aunt and he himself ate them all. Then there are muffins, over which he fights with Jack over. In fact, he is so fond of food that he believes them something that one must be very serious about. “Algernon: Yes, but you must be serious about it (dining). I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them” (Wilde 1431). The importance of this quote is that Wilde wants to show the reader that so far, Algernon has not been serious about anything and then see him being totally serious about something very unimportant. This is the authors way of showing how shallow Algernon actually is. Ernest/Jack like Algernon also has a dual identity that allows him to come to the city from the country. Unlike Jack, instead of doing this to get away from relatives, he does it to get away from his many responsibilities in the country and comes under the name of someone else to see Gwendolen. In this whole play, we never see Algernon do any sort of work and because of this, Algernon is short money: “(Jack):I was very nearly offering a large reward. (Algernon):Well, I wish you would offer one. I happen to be more than usually hard up” (Wilde 1428). Jack on the other hand does participate in some sort of work but he is uninterested enough in it to take the time to go be another person.

No upper class person in this play cares about education and while Cecily is being education, we see her not caring at all about it. Lady Bracknell even believes that there is no use of modern education and that England’s education system produces no effect, something she is glad of. She views education as dangerous to the upper class and approves of Jack when he says he knows nothing. Ms. Prism on the other hand, cares about Cecily’s education, but she is part of the middle class.

Wilde’s purpose in writing this play is to show the idleness of the upper class. They spend their time posing as other people, participating in gluttony, and being happy in their ignorance. This is important because the upper class is something most people strive for and yet when looking at what they do to contribute to society, it isn’t much. The upper class is, in a way, glorified by those who are not in it and yet there isn’t much to praise.

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30 Apr This entry was published on April 30, 2013 at 9:00 am. It’s filed under Analysis, Blog, Books, Essay, Personal, Review and tagged blog, earnest, essay, importance, personal. Bookmark the permalink.

Through Jack’s search for his origins and family name, Wilde satirizes the Victorian Era’s intense scrutiny of cash, class, and character. Wilde subversively prods this question through the name of “Ernest,” a Christian name, or given name, as opposed to a family name. The name of “Ernest” comes to symbolize different things for different people. For Gwendolen and Cecily it “inspires absolute confidence” but also symbolizes the ideal husband/ lover. For Jack, “Ernest” is an alter ego, an identity through which he can court Gwendolen and cavort in the pleasures of city life. The name holds similar meaning to Algernon, who masquerades as “Ernest” to escape to the country to meet Cecily under false pretenses.

While the name of “Ernest” holds different values for each character, Wilde shows that a name, in of itself, is quite meaningless in comparison to the person who holds that name. Contrary to the play’s title, in this dramatic world, being “earnest” is not nearly as important as being named “Ernest.” Gwendolen does not accept Jack’s proposal because he is earnestly in love with her, but she believes him to be named “Ernest,” a name she find melodious, aesthetically pleasing, and irresistibly fascinating. Cecily in a similar manner commits to Algernon not because he is earnest, but because she believes him to be “Ernest,” a man whom she has fantasized about in her diary and “girlish dream[s].” Because Gwendolen and Cecily are so enamored of the name “Ernest,” they confuse the shared name of their lovers with their respective identities. Both women believe that they are engaged to a name rather than a person. Upon finding out that neither Jack, nor Algernon is named “Ernest,” Gwendolen exclaims to Cecily, “neither of us is engaged to be married to anyone.” Through this conflation Wilde shows the ridiculousness of marrying someone purely for his/her name alone. But in Wilde’s world, it was an all too common practice for men and women to capitalize upon an advantageous family name through marriage. Wilde’s play on the name of “Ernest” with the quality of being “earnest,” turns this Victorian obsession with names and their social meaning on its head.

Ultimately Jack gets the girl because he has the cash, acquires class and gains character by taking on the name of “Ernest,” which validates his family ties and social standing. Yet Jack’s new name—“Ernest John Moncrieff”—only has meaning because society assigns value to it; his name is verified in the Army List, a listing of the names of English generals. Wilde is quick to point out that this list is merely a piece of paper, whose authority is shoddy in comparison to Jack’s earnestness to find his true identity. While Jack feverishly combs over volumes to uncover his lineage, Wilde refers to “wrong pages,” antiquated books,” and lists of “ghastly names,” suggesting the piece of paper that Jack’s new name is printed on is not much better than the woman who confuses a man named “Ernest” for a man in “earnest.” Wilde’s subtle jab at the ridiculousness of claiming one’s name from a stack of books points to the relative meaningless of names in comparison to one’s actions and the contents of one’s character, thereby undermining the Victorians’ marriage of class and character.

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