Honesty as a Providing Theme in The Importance of Being Earnest

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Analysis The Importance of Being Earnest

Honesty is an important trait; the importance of being honest is demonstrated various times throughout The Importance of Being Earnest. With this trait being something that people of differing cultures can understand as a universal truth, comprehending the meaning of not only the title but the story itself becomes easier. Algernon and Jack pose as different people but as time goes on their lies begin to catch up with them and cause conflict; throughout the play, both Algernon and Jack lie about their true identity which supports the title. In this story there are multiple instances of dishonesty in action; some of these would be shown by Jack pretending to be Ernest in the city and Algernon also pretending to be Ernest when he goes to the country to see Jack.

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The play starts off with Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen coming to visit Algernon. Unfortunately Algernon’s friend, Jack, who is going by the name Ernest since he is in the city, beats them to the house first. Jack then proceeds to tell Algernon his plans to propose to Gwendolen. Jack goes on to say “I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her.” (Act 1). Unfortunately Lady Bracknell refutes the marriage; she states “When you do become engaged to someone, I or your father will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise as the case may be.” (Act 1). Even though Lady Bracknell does not approve of the engagement, Gwendolen and Jack still continue and decide to keep in touch. Already Jack is off to a bad start by lying that his name is Ernest when it is not. Jack should come clean of the dirty secret if he plans to marry Gwendolen. Later in the play Algernon goes to Jack’s estate on the country but when he arrives he is overcome by Cecily’s beauty. He then proceeds to pretend to be Jack’s evil, and also made up, brother Ernest. Lying to Cecily is a bad way to start off a relationship. It is made even worse when Jack returns to make an end of the made up “Ernest” only to find Algernon pretending to be him. This causes Jack to have to play along to keep from hurting Cecily’s feelings because she is deeply in love with Ernest. This where a lot of their lies begin to catch up with them. Right when things could not get any worse, Gwendolen arrives at Jack’s estate looking for him. While there she gets to know Cecily to only find out they both are engaged to the same person, Ernest Worthing. Even though everything is worked out in the end, the bulk of it all could have been avoided if they were honest from the very beginning.

Ganz states “This sequence is more than a delightful joke. It is symptomatic of the emotional and intellectual attitudes that underlie the play…,” I completely agree. I believe lying is not a subject to joke around with. People should be completely honest with each other especially considering marriage is involved. Lying leads to untrustworthy people. If someone lied to me, especially about a serious matter like marriage, I would find it very hard to trust that person in the future.

Poague goes to say “The Importance of Being Earnest has been a particularly sane one, critics now generally agreeing that the play is indeed comedy (as opposed to farce).” I honestly do not find the humor in this play. I see this play being a more drama like play. With the climax being when Gwendolen and Cecily find out that they are both engaged to the same man. Although many may actually find that scenario somewhat humorous, it also at the same time is kind of sad and unfortunate. Poague also says there are about five different types of irony throughout the play. Some being easy to find and others not so much. An example would be when the play first opens and Algernon asked Lane “Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?” (Act 1). Lane replies, “I didn’t think it was polite to listen, sir” (Act 1). This irony is somewhat hard to see like Poague said before; “Lane’s response would simply not be funny out of context. We might expect a rejoinder had Algernon been engaged in a private conversation…”

The importance of honesty was portrayed many times through the entire play. Starting with Jack and Algernon, and even Lady Bracknell at one point. Honesty is a key feature that everyone should have. Like said before, most of this catastrophe could have been easily avoided if the characters were honest from the very beginning. I am sure by the end of the play, all the characters learned the “importance of being earnest.”  

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