Deception and Irony in “The Importance of being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde

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To be earnest usually means to be sincere and honest. As it is mentioned in the title, the first impression that the reader gets is that the main figures are implementing these ideas. But why then are they exactly the opposite and act in such mischievous and misbehaviour ways? And here comes the irony which follows along through the whole piece. The figures create false deceitful images which lead to “”comedy of manners””. Are they used for good or bad? It is hard to tell what the outcomes are.

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This deception, as a key element in the play, results in accepting everything as humourous acts through the eyes of the irony. The audience knows more about what is going on than the characters on stage. But did they create these false images because of the suppressing world in which they lived or was it for another reason? We will find out in this research.

To begin with, we should understand the definition of the word “earnest” itself, so that it would be easier for the reader to make proper final decisions of the characters’ actions. If one is considered to be earnest, he or she is a very sincere and serious person who takes his or her actions to heart. As not only their actions, but also their beliefs are very important to them and they try to be honest, at least to themselves first. Being honest is a key factor to this notion of earnestness. If one is just pretending and creates a false image of himself/herself or is just not being honest at all, he/she would not be seen in their full potential. What is more, the audience would be very disappointed when they eventually find out that he/she is acting as someone else and that they have been lying this whole time. Finding that people have been lying to you is not a good thing and you will change the way you look at them in a negative way. One could not rely on his/her lies forever. At some point the truth will come to light. Is it this situation with our characters in Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest”? We are about to find out.

Our main characters are not that sincere as it is mentioned in title, as I already mentioned. Jack Worthing calls himself “Earnest” so that he is perceived to be honest by the audience, especially the one in London, although he is not quite sincere himself. Here is some unpacking of his character and why he chose this way of behavior. It is all related to his brother to whom he came up who is full of mischief and misbehavior, not appropriate to that time of living. Jack decided that he wants to escape from the established style of existence in London and misbehave on account to his beloved brother. And in order not to be caught, he introduces himself as “Earnest” which creates the false image. This kind of shows Jack’s morale and that he actually cares for his brother and tries to get him out of his troubles. “This is ironic, and the life of Earnest was disapproved in Victorian Society, at that time, while what Jack appeared as was normal and looked upon greatly. Jack strived for a “very high moral tone.”. (Opaleski-DiMeo, 2013)

Another character also escapes from the reality and created dishonest image of himself, but for another reason. Algernon’s falsehoods are less serious than Jack’s. He never hurts anyone with his fiction of Bunbury, which he creates to help him cope and escape from his tiresome social responsibilities and duties in the real life, such as having dinner with Lady Bracknell. “His imaginary creation is kept at arm’s length; he does not actually pretend to be Bunbury. Because Algernon pretends that he goes to the country to look after the invalid Bunbury, he gains the additional benefit of borrowing the appearance of dutiful and charitable behavior.” At some though, he is challenged to declare his motive and true identity. (Novelguide)

Jack, on the other hand, actually pretends to be someone he is not. As I observed, Earnest is completely different from Ernest, the character that he plays. He deceives even those closest to him, even his beloved woman, Gwendolen, whom he wants to marry. Through the whole time she believes that she will marry someone called Ernest. Despite the fact that loving someone means to be honest with your half, Jack does not allow her to get to know his real character. Meaning that his entire relationship with Gwendolen is “never placed on an honest footing”, unlike the relation between Algernon and Cecily. Overall, Jack lives a double and deceitful life in a period which does not tolerate immoral behavior as long as he preserves a virtuous appearance. His desires the audience to think of him as the perfect example of moral integrity, when, indeed, he lives in a lie. (Novelguide)

Here comes the most important question, why they act in such misbehavior ways, although the Victorian period in which they lived, did not allow them? I mentioned some factors which provoked them to act in such manners, but for which major reason did their intentions grow? It is because Wilde wrote his play under Victorian values and society, which was famous for its political stability, increased wealth and extremely strict cultural norms? In fact, this is probably the main reason for their actions. During that time males were valued in both economic basis and birth condition, which were the most significant standards of the traditional value system of the mainstream society itself. All of this puts huge pressure on the individuals and provokes them to change behaviors. In one-word, economic conditions and the social status determine males’ fate in Oscar Wilde’s play related to the Victorian Age. (???, 2014)

Also, here comes the pressure from being married that affects the characters in the play. Marriage itself plays a huge role in “The Importance of being Earnest” since both Jack and Algernon are trying to marry their beloved ones. Unfortunately, marriage back then was not only to be with the one that is meant for you. Marriage and Love did not go together. It was a time of arranged marriages from which one’s family did not only gain a fair amount of wealth, but also accreditation. Back then it was of huge importance to be part of the upper class, to be someone recognizable and honored. And if one is not born in the aristocracy, he or she may achieve his/her status through an arranged marriage. And people from the upper class are focused more on issues such as social standing, money and family background rather than issues like having a romantic relationship. The society at that time lived in an extremely materialistic view, which is really sad, in my opinion, because young people did not have the chance to marry the ones they love. This is another reason for the main figures’ “riot” to the already established norms. (Smith,2018)

To sum everything so far, one of the reasons of the figures’ stupid actions is the law at that time which plays a huge role in people’s lives. Which affects them in two ways: they either modify their external behavior or change their underlying preferences. We will examine which case we have in this play. (2. Lewinsohn-Zamir, 2015)

Overall, Wilde’s play is a farce of comic imitation of figures which leads to the carnival image of the piece. As it represents false images by hiding the characters’ truth identities under “the masks” such as in a typical carnival, where everyone is pretending to be someone else, where everything is masquerade. (???, 2013)

Wilde’s play is a perfectly written play, showing something more than just “good fun”. The work is studied as a satire which is usually meant to be humorous and shows the constructive social criticism over the examined characters in different situations. While reading this text the readers are mocking the characters since they are performing silly and crazy actions in order to stand out in the crowd. The play itself introduces humorous criticism over the irrational acting of the main bodies in the play by examining their life experiences and what paths do they take. (Reinert, 1956)

It is also considered as a pragmatic approach to real-life translating for the stage and screen, with a view to showing the potential of detailed linguistic analysis to show aspects of meaning-making and how the audience react to various personalities on stage. Having Wilde’s play, this research provides us with more detailed and accurate information of how the public reacts to the stage performers (to all the farce that is performed), what do they examine and what conclusions do they make after that. An evidence, explaining why the main audience of the play reacts in a humorous way without considering it to be serious and why they take it as an irony. (Sidiropoulou, 2012)

In order to help the audience to understand the whole point of the play and the deceitful characters, I have found a real-life example which juxtaposes Wilde’s play by examining the digital deceit nowadays. It looks why is it important to be Earnest in social media. It reverses the perspective that Wilde established in his play and creates a new problem-solving process based on Wilde’s views. (Micheaux,2018)

I will elaborate more on the other sources as well. The ones with the Chinese symbols are from the Harvard library and I do not know why they are shown like this, instead of the author’s name. But they should be academic. Also, please tell me if I need to change and find some other sources and themes.

Works Cited

  1. Craft, Christopher. “Alias Bunbury: Desire and Termination in The Importance of Being Earnest.” Representations, no. 31, 1990, pp. 19–46. JSTOR.
  2. Foster, Richard. “Wilde as Parodist: A Second Look at the Importance of Being Earnest.” College English, vol. 18, no. 1, 1956, pp. 18–23. JSTOR,
  3. Lewinsohn-Zamir, Daphna. “THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST: TWO NOTIONS OF INTERNALIZATION.” The University of Toronto Law Journal, vol. 65, no. 2, 2015, pp. 37–84. JSTOR.
  4. Micheaux, Andrea L., et al. The Importance of Being Earnest in Social Media ; The Importance of Being Earnest in Social Media : Juxtaposing Oscar Wilde’s Script with an Empirical Case Study to Examine Digital Deceit from the Blogger’s Perspective. 2018.
  5. Opaleski-DiMeo, Kristie-Anne. Importance of Being Earnest Discussion Questions. 2013,
  6. Reinert, O. (1956). Satiric Strategy in the Importance of Being Earnest. College English, 18(1), p.14.
  7. Sale, Roger. “Being Earnest.” The Hudson Review, vol. 56, no. 3, 2003, pp. 475–484. JSTOR.
  8. Shmoop Editorial Team. “The Importance of Being Earnest Theme of Marriage.” Shmoop, Shmoop University, 11 Nov. 2008,
  9. Sidiropoulou, Maria. Translating Identities on Stage and Screen: Pragmatic Perspectives and Discoursal Tendencies. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012. EBSCOhost.
  10. Smith, Catherine. “Marriage in The Importance of Being Earnest: Theme & Quotes.”,, 2018,
  11. Team, Novelguide. “The Importance of Being Earnest: Essay Q&A.” Novelguide,,
  12. van der Westhuizen, Millie. “Victorian Values & Society in The Importance of Being Earnest.”,, 2018,
  13. ??? “A Tentative Analysis on the Carnivalization in The Importance of Being Earnest.” ????(?), no. 2, 2013, pp. 203–204.
  14. ??? “Traditional Values on Males in Victorian Age-A Case Study of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.” ???????, no. 7, 2014, pp. 179–180.
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Deception and Irony in "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde. (2021, Mar 16). Retrieved from