Q) Explore the significance of the title The Importance of Being Earnest. (25 marks)
Wilde purposefully sculpts the contrast between the title’s implied seriousness and morality and the farcical characters with an inverted sense of values in the play to portray the English hypocrisy and veneer inherent amongst the elite upper class and also, more ambiguously, to portray the need of a ‘permanent invalid’ to endure the high-demanding Victorian society.
Firstly, the punning of the word ‘earnest’ and the alter ego ‘Ernest’ is particularly comic because ‘earnest’ symbolises honesty and truth which contradicts the crafty and malicious purpose of ‘Ernest’. Through this double entendre, Wilde perhaps satirises the aristocratic Victorian’s confused and inverted basis of values. The name ‘Ernest’ appearing honest versus being the product of a long-lived lie perfectly portrays the misleading ‘surfaces’ commonly inherent in high Victorian society. So, in this way, the title mocks the upper class.
But, the title also signifies the importance of being ‘Ernest’ i.e. the importance of being an artificial character that is able to live up to the expectations of the decorum, but also at the same time work as a mean of escapism from the ‘restraints’ of the ‘age of surfaces’. It’s also important to consider an alternative role of the title; perhaps Wilde portrays the necessity to escape from society and rejoice in temporary freedom via a disguise through the title. To expand, in the end, Jack alludes ‘I’ve now realised for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest’. The audience can’t help but speculate on Jack’s illocution in this final line. Maybe Wilde emphasises on the necessity of the disguise rather than the necessity on the truth because his attitude towards the truth that ‘the truth is rarely ever pure and simple’ barricades the possibility of the more moral interpretation of Jack’s final line. To support this, the purpose of Jack’s creation of his alter ego, ‘Ernest’ was to escape the very concept of earnestness. This was particularly emphasised on when he ‘dressed in the deepest mourning’ and presented himself in a ‘tragic manner’ to merely escape being honest. So it would be quite strange for Jack’s sudden change in attitude. This displ...