The Importance of Being Earnest

Poster¡G Dee Dee Wang at 21:30:50 1/15/98 from
The Importance of Being Earnest 

The "earnest" in the title and the name " Ernest" in the story has something in common. Both of them have "est" as the end of the word, which mean they are the superlative degree, and they have the same pronunciation, but the meaning is different. The former means to be sincere and serious and the latter is just a male's name. 
Algernon is the first man mentioned in the story. He is a very graceful gentleman, but his behavior show that he was always intoxicated with self-satisfaction. What he said to Lane can show this perfectly, "I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for life." He is critical when it comes to eating. He said in the first act " I believe it is customary in good society to take some slight refreshment at five o'clock." "I hate people who are not serous about meals" and they show that he is fastidious about eating. As far as affection is concerned, he thinks love is romantic while proposal is not. We can find the evidence in the first act, too, "It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal." His thought was also weird that he said in the story, "Really, if the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?" Normally speaking, the upper class should set the example for the lower class, but Algernon said this is the lower class's responsibility, and that they will be no use of them. 

Jack is a double-faced gentleman. He has two names. One is called Ernest in town and the other is Jack in the country. He pretended to have a younger brother of the name of Ernest living in the town, who got into the most dreadful scrapes. He said, " When one is placed in the position of guardian, one has to adopt a very high moral tone on all subjects. It's one's duty to do so¡Kas a high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to either one's health or one's happiness." Different from Algernon, he is very serious about making a proposal. He always had different opinion with Algernon that he always treated what Algernon said as nonsense. From this point, we can find he considered himself in the right all the time by denying others. But he was inflexible to love for he said, " If I marry a charming girl like Gwendolen, and she is the only girl I ever saw in my life that I would marry." He was innocent and held tightly on what he thought although Algernon put a damper on him. He held a traditional thought that man and woman got marry and they would have a happy life. Jack was solemn in both appearance and heart but he liked to tell a lie. 

Both of the men enjoyed telling a lie, for example, they both pretended to be the man named Ernest to earn the two women's heart. 
Cecily was a young lady under the flag of everyone in a rich family so she was naughty and stubborn. Everyone should listen to her, even Jack, her guardian, was no exception. She was a daydreamer and she had a lot of imagination. Bad men were the type of her favorite, and she also liked to put influence on them to turn them into good ones. She always carried a diary book with her whenever she went. She enjoyed recording everything in her diary that happened in a day. She said " I keep a diary in order to enter the wonderful secrets of my life. If I didn't write them down, I should probably forget all about them." in the second act. I think she had full imagination and boldness that she could work out the whole story about her and Algernon and tell it to him without suspension. But she was a little bit stupid because she fell in love with a man by his badness and his name without knowing him well. Between Cecily and Algernon's conversation, she said, " ¡Kof course a man who is much talked about is always very attractive. One feels there must be something in him, after all. She loved Jack's bad brother, Algernon, only by the words from others. In the second act when she was with Gwedolen, she looked like a little woman. She knew perfectly the social manner and how to make a small talk, and she was polite in the beginning. However, she became a female tiger and talked in incisive words when she found out that her Ernest also proposed to Gwendolen. She also showed her childish behavior and mature style of speech that she did something against what Gwendolen said and make her angry. 
Gwendolen was grown in a rich family and was brought up with the utmost care. She was fond of the man called Ernest but not the person. She always behaved graceful and nobly, which proved she was a real lady. She kept a diary and never traveled without it. She wrote down everything that happened around her in the diary book, just like Cecily did. She liked to make progress of herself, for example, when Jack said she was perfect, she replied " I hope I am not that. It would leave no room for developments, and I intend to develop in many directions." She was a very charming and confident lady that she always believed in her own thought. After some words she usually added " I am never wrong." or when she was angry with Cecily, she said, " My first impressions of people are invariably right." Also, she was vainglorious because she said to Jack, " I often wish that in public, at any rate, you had been more demonstrative." She wanted men to flatter her in public to show her fascination. She was so crazy about the name "Ernest" that she even noticed its tone. She said to Jack " It is a divine name. It has music of its own. It produces vibrations." Actually, I can hardly find them out because I don't hear any music in it. 
Both of the ladies had a good habit of keeping a diary, but they were too crazy about it. Both of them brought up with their families' love, which made them a little spoiled. Both of them unreasonably fell in love with the men they didn't know well just because their names were both "Ernest". Both of them had strong feeling of love. 
The other title of this play is " A Trivial Comedy for Serious People". We can find Wilde very good at contrary words and symmetric sentences although some of them are nonsense at all. Wilde made this play to satirize the upper class for their lives. The two ladies, Gwendolen and Cecily, were used to show that people in upper class usually cared triviality. The two gentlemen, Jack and Algernon, were used to show that the people in upper class liked to tell a lie. In the conversations, their point of view was absurdity and different from the normal people. I think that is the special point of Wilde's play, funny and full of meanings.