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The Importance of Being Earnest is a play written by Oscar Wilde, which was first performed in 1895 at the St. James's Theatre in London. In this play, Oscar Wilde introduces the protagonists that make an attempt to escape from the social obligations. This play focuses on the desire of two selfish gentlemen, John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, to marry two girls (Wilde 12). Both characters introduce themselves as Ernest in order to attract these girls. However, in the end, they are disclosed and the girls discover the truth about young men. In the final scene, it appears that John and Algernon are brothers. Moreover, one of them is really named Ernest. In this play, Oscar Wilde raises many social and moral issues, such as hypocrisy, platitude etc., though a political aspect was not left without attention too. Thus, the main theme of this play is deriding moralism and hypocrisy in the Victorian age and their impact on the social standards of that time, and to develop this theme, Oscar Wilde utilizes a variety of symbols and imagery.
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At first glance, the play seems to be about the nature of marriage and its positive and negative sides. For instance, Lane states that marriage is considered to be a pleasant event only if it is not one’s own marriage (Wilde 23). However, the play The Importance of Being Earnest is oriented to a reader who is able to notice what lies beneath the mask of marriage. The true point of this play is the immoral actions of a moral society where nobody truly obeys the morality, and everybody only wears the mask of decency. Oscar Wilde tries to introduce the true image of society of the Victorian age through the paradigm of sarcasm and humor. However, he is not concerned about ientifying what is moral and what is immoral. He believes that it is funnier to present the strict moral code of the Victorian society and the despicable attempts of people to define what others should or should not do. Hence, one faces misunderstanding because people are the only ones who create the standards that they themselves do not want to maintain, but they believe that others should do it. The name of the play includes a moral paradox itself. Earnestness, which involves being serious and being sincere, becomes the main object of Wilde’s satire.
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According to this fact, earnestness becomes the opposite side of morality in The Importance of Being Earnest. This phenomenon may be presented in various forms, such as sense of duty, pomposity, complacency, boringness or self-righteousness. Wilde sees all these qualities in the society of the Victorian age and tries to demonstrate these qualities, using the bright example of contemporary gentlemen. In fact, the meaning of all words is misunderstood in this play; the characters have their own vision of each quality. For instance, the word serious is viewed as trivial; Algernon says that it is shallow for people not to be serious about meals.
Oscar Wilde views earnest in two different ways: as a notion of morals and a notion of false truth. The moralism of the Victorian age does not give the correct name of the same meanings. For instance, if a member of this society believes that something is decent, it does not mean that decent is really what this individual thinks. According to this fact, the play’s paradox predetermines that one cannot be earnest in reality if he/she claims that he/she is earnest. Hence, those characters that are cconsidered to be trivial or sinful may in fact appear to be the most noble and trustworthy.
In his play, the author utilizes much symbolism and imagery. For instance, the double life is an essential metaphor in the Wilde’s literary work that is symbolized in the notion of “Bunburying” or “Bunbury”. As it is delineated by Algernon, Bunburying means creating a complicated deception that allows one to misbehave while seeming to sustain the uppermost norms of responsibility and duty. Jack’s imaginary, rebellious brother named Ernest is a tool for evading moral and social responsibilities. In addition, he gives Jack an opportunity to appear far more ethical and conscientious than he in fact is. Another symbol here is food and eating as a whole, which appear in the play rather frequently and are nearly always the cause of conflicts.
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To conclude, The Importance of Being Earnest is the play that reveals various problems of the Victorian society. Oscar Wilde makes an attempt to illustrate the wickedness of the society in a satiric manner. He despises the society, in which the dignities and virtues lose its true meaning. People use a word to name something, but they do not really mean what they say. Hence, the entire sense of all words is lost; everybody means what he/she wants to mean, but not what a word really means. Oscar Wilde demonstrates that even the most honorable people of that era do not know what is right and what is wrong from the moral point of view; they only do what is accepted by the social standards and what seems acceptable to them. Thus, the title of this play indicates importance to use the real meanings of the words, but not those that one wants it to mean.
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