Oscar Wilde is a literary genius who is popular for using comic devices to evoke certain reactions from his audience. The Importance of Being Earnest is such a play. Wilde in this play uses satire to criticize the foolish behavior of others. Wilde takes a comedic look at the Victorian society that also happens to be the same audience he targets for his play (Donhue 8). It revolves around Jack Worthing, the central character who pretends to be a fun socialite known by the name Earnest to have some sought of escape from the seriousness of his life. When Jack falls in love, his life as Ernest gets complicated, and his facade is exposed. Similarly, Algernon, Jack’s friend also puts up a facade as a man named Bunbury to escape his life. To also help his friend Jack sustain his facade, he also pretends to be Earnest. At the end of the play, both Algernon and Jack marry the women they are in love with, but in order to satisfy them, they both change their names to Earnest.
Wilde’s intent of comedy is to servethesociety by pointing out thoseantisocialtendenciesandwelcomingus to laugh at them, henceencouraging their correction. Hedoesthis by satirizingthemannersandideal of the Victorian society through theword “Earnest.” In the Victorian Era, being an Earnestpersonwasperceived as an admirablequality. Being “earnest” wasassociated with suchcharacteristics as intellect, sincerity, clear-headedness andgoodthinking. In theplay Gwendolen and Cecily desire a mannamed Ernest simplyforthename.” To them,marrying a mancalled Ernest meansmarrying a manwho is clear-headed andintellectual. According to Gwendolen, there is something in thename Earnest, which inspiresabsoluteconfidence (Wilde, 263). Cecily alsosaysit hasalsobeen her girlishdream to love a mannamed Earnest (Wilde, 288). However,Jack and Algernon are far from earnest. They are neithersincerenorauthentic. They are just hypocritical whopretend to be otherpeople to escapesome challenging times in their lives.
Wilde ridiculespeoplewhodo not exercise their free will, andhemakes a satire of itto demonstrate a societal inelasticity orflaw in order to show a moreoptimisticway, which is thatpeople must act upon their free will. Hedoesthis by satirizingtherestrictionsandmoralities of the Victorian society. Algernon reasonsthatthelowerclass has theresponsibility of setting a moralstandard to theupperclass. Hereasonsthatthelowerclass has nouse on earthiftheydo notsettheupperclassan excellentexample (Wilde, 254). Wilde howeverdoes not seem to be interested in what is moralorimmoral. He is interested in depictingtheabsurdity of the Victorian lifestyle andsatirizestheentireidea of Victorian society as defined by a strictgroup of rules about howpeople should behaveor not behave.
Wilde has succeeded in satirizing the actions of characters in “the importance of being earnest” .What he is trying to achieve is point towards a correction of men’s manners in a way that makes the endeavor to be what they ought to be or what they someday ought to become. Simply, to show in a more optimistic way that they must act upon their free will and not be defined by a strict group of rules about how people should actor not act.