“The Importance of Being Earnest” is a play by Oscar Wilde that is full of hypocrisy. The characters in the play are constantly lying to each other and themselves, which leads to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.
This hypocrisy is most evident in the character of Jack Worthing. Jack lies about his identity throughout the play, first pretending to be Ernest in order to woo Gwendolen Fairfax, and then later pretending to be someone else entirely in order to escape from his responsibilities.
While some might see this as simply a case of Jack being a dishonest person, it could also be seen as a commentary on the hypocrisy of Victorian society. In a time when people were expected to conform to strict social norms, Oscar Wilde seems to be saying that it is better to be honest and true to oneself, even if that means breaking the rules.
The Victorian era was a time of arrogant swagger and self-importance for the newly wealthy generation who quickly ascended in station during and after the industrial revolution. Nothing appeared to be what it appeared to be in this day, when earnestness was said to be the most valued quality a guy could have. In Oscar Wilde’s classic farce, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” every character represents a point of view or value from Victorian England.
The play’s main characters, Jack and Algernon, lead secret double lives. Jack, who goes by the name of Ernest when he is in London, tells Gwendolen that his name is Ernest in order to gain her affections. Algernon, on the other hand, creates an imaginary invalid friend named Bunbury so that he may escape from dull social engagements. While both men lie about their identity, they do so for different reasons. For Jack, it is a way to make the woman he loves happy. He knows that she only wants to marry a man named Ernest because her mother told her that it was “what first attracted her to my father” (Wilde 22).
In other words, Ernest is the name of a ideal husband in Gwendolen’s eyes. On the other hand, Algernon’s deception is simply a way to have some fun and avoid boredom. He believes that “the only really earnest people in society are the people who go about trying to prove that they are not earnest” (Wilde 67). In other words, he sees hypocrisy as the norm in Victorian society.
The two men’s different motivations for lying highlight the hypocrisy of the Victorian era. While both men are technically being dishonest, Jack is only doing so out of love while Algernon is being purely selfish. However, because “society expects one to be a hypocrite” (Wilde 67), both men are seen as being equally insincere. This is due to the fact that, in order to be considered “earnest,” one must put on a façade of perfection. In reality, nobody is perfect and everybody has something they are hiding. The characters in “The Importance of Being Earnest” are no exception.
While Jack and Algernon’s double lives are the most obvious examples of hypocrisy in the play, there are other instances of it as well. For example, Gwendolen says that she would never marry a man named Ernest because it is “too common” (Wilde 22). However, she is blissfully unaware that Ernest is not Jack’s real name. In addition, Lady Bracknell disapproves of Jack’s lower-class background but is happy to marry her daughter off to Algernon, even though he comes from a similar background.
The theme of hypocrisy is also evident in Oscar Wilde’s stage directions. He frequently comments on the artificiality of the characters and their dialogue. For example, he describes Gwendolen as being “made up with meticulous care” (Wilde 22) and her dialogue as sounding “like the prattle of a child who has been taught what to say by rote” (Wilde 23). In other words, she is not being genuine. He also describes Lady Bracknell as having a “mask-like smile” (Wilde 43) and speaking in a “very artificial voice” (Wilde 44). This shows that she, too, is putting on a façade.
The theme of hypocrisy is also evident in the ending of the play. In the final scene, Jack and Algernon both get their comeuppance. Gwendolen discovers Jack’s true identity and Lady Bracknell finds out about Algernon’s secret life. However, instead of being angry, both women forgive the men and agree to marry them. This highlights the hypocritical nature of Victorian society, which expects people to be perfect but is willing to overlook their flaws.
Jack, the protagonist in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” is a hypocrite who spouts hypocrisy when his mouth is open and sometimes when it is shut. Jack appears to be a genuine gentleman at first sight. Indeed, as soon as the conversation turns to his travels back and forth from town to country, he demonstrates just that, but when the topic of his travel between city and countryside comes up, Jack makes excuses and swiftly changes the subject to more lighthearted topics like cucumber sandwiches (890).
It is only later in the play, when Ernest Worthing’s true identity is revealed, that the audience realizes Jack has been lying to everyone about his name, where he is from, and who he really is. From this moment on, it becomes quite clear that Oscar Wilde is using Jack as a vehicle to satirize the upper class and their hypocrisy.
Throughout the play, Jack continues to make hypocritical statements and behave in ways that are not befitting of a gentleman. For example, when Algernon tells him that Gwendolen believes “all men who have Florence Nightingales in London are bad” (892), Jack immediately agrees with her and says “I think all women who accept compliments are bad” (892). However, just a few lines later, Jack hypocritically gives Gwendolen a compliment when he tells her she looks “exceedingly pretty” in her new dress (893).
Not only does Jack say hypocritical things, but he also does hypocritical actions. Even though he knows that it is morally wrong to take advantage of a woman’s love, Jack still gets engaged to both Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew. In fact, he even goes so far as to lie to both women about his name and where he is from in order to make himself more attractive to them.
By the end of the play, it becomes quite evident that Oscar Wilde is using Jack’s character to satirize the upper class and their hypocrisy. Wilde makes it clear that he believes the upper class is made up of people who say one thing but do another, and who are more concerned with appearances than they are with reality. In other words, they are all talk and no action.
While Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest” is a comedy, it is also clear that he is using his characters to make a statement about society. He does this by making his primary character, Jack, a hypocritically. Throughout the play, Jack says and does things that are not befitting of a gentleman, and which ultimately reveal the hypocrisy of the upper class.
In conclusion, Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” is a satire of the hypocrisies of Victorian society. Every character in the play embodies the artificiality and insincerity of the era. The theme of hypocrisy is also evident in Oscar Wilde’s stage directions, which frequently comment on the artificiality of the characters and their dialogue. In addition, the ending of the play highlights the hypocritical nature of Victorian society, which expects people to be perfect but is willing to overlook their flaws.