The Importance of Being Earnest: Themes and Quotes

The Importance of Being Earnest: Themes and Quotes

The Importance of Being Earnest: Themes and Quotes

Respectability

“Lady Bracknell: […] A hundred and thirty thousand pounds! And in the Funds! Miss Cardew seems to me a most attractive young lady, now that I look at her.”(Act 3)

In this quote, Lady Bracknell has a very sudden change of heart about Cecily. Up to this point, she had been grilling Algernon about Cecily, seeming certain that the girl wouldn’t be good enough to marry him. But, upon learning that Cecily is quite wealthy, Lady Bracknell instantly decides the marriage is an attractive match – simply because she sees wealth as being equal to respectability.

Throughout the entirety of the play, Oscar Wilde pokes fun at Victorian society. In particular, Wilde highlights the silliness surrounding what was considered respectable: wealth, having a high-society family lineage, and maintaining the appearance of respectability.

Duplicity

“I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.”(Act 3)

Because Jack is actually Ernest, Lady Bracknell believes him respectable and says that he can marry Gwendolyn. However, we know that Ernest has not been acting “in earnest” throughout the play; he lies until he is backed into a corner. But, because he now has the outward appearance of being Ernest, also being christened with the name, he has gained the appearance of respectability. Oscar Wilde uses this double meaning of “earnest” to point out the duplicity and hypocrisy that were present in Victorian high society.

Marriage

“Lady Bracknell: Mr. Worthing, is Miss Cardew at all connected with any of the larger railway stations in London? I merely desire information. Until yesterday I had no idea that there were any families or persons whose origin was a Terminus.”(Act 3)

Marriage is another aspect of Victorian high society in which Oscar Wilde saw a lot of hypocrisy. In this quote, Lady Bracknell points out that marrying Jack would be a dead-end for Gwendolen because Jack does not have a biological family. It doesn’t matter that Jack and Gwendolen are in love; Victorian marriage was often about social rank and wealth.

The hypocrisy is revealed when, upon learning that Jack is actually Ernest and is a relative of Lady Bracknell, he is suddenly an acceptable suitor, even though nothing has actually changed. He already had a good reputation and wealth. What he lacked was the most important thing in a Victorian suitor – the proper appearance of respectability.

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