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Free Study Guide: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde - Free BookNotes

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THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST: BOOK SUMMARY

THEMES

Major Theme


Triviality of the Upper Class
The major theme of this play is the triviality of the upper class. This is expressed in the nature of the writing, which is satirical. By examining the language and interaction of the characters, one can see that they are simply absurd.


Minor Themes

Triviality of Marriage
This is perhaps the most obvious theme, and a subset of the triviality theme. This theme exposes the aristocracy as shallow and absurd. Wilde’s characters consistently refer to marriage in a poor light, yet, continuing with their absurdity, each seek to be married.

Victorian Manners
This theme also seeks to support the theme of the triviality of the upper class. The way in which they interact with one another is based on a social code; this is also an example of sentimentality. For instance, Lady Bracknell is kind to Jack until she discovers his background. Gwendolen and Cecily are overly kind to one another until they find something upon which to disagree. Lady Bracknell is kind to Cecily when she discovers she has money.

Importance of Wealth/ Life of Leisure
This theme supports the presentation of Victorian society as shallow. Lady Bracknell, who is representative of the aristocratic class, concerns herself primarily with the wealth of others. Even more apparent, is the life of leisure in which everyone partakes. No real “action” occurs. This is primarily a play of language, of conversation.


MOOD

The mood of the Importance of Being Ernest is largely satirical. This is because Wilde is seeking to mock the triviality of the upper class society of London. Wilde’s satire is characterized by wit and is, throughout, lighthearted. He often portrays lines that characters deliver as quite normal e.g., when Gwendolen tells Ernest that she loves him because of his name. This, however, is quite ridiculous-making Gwendolen appear so by association. Wilde is also writing from an aesthetic perspective. This movement in literature saw that art be celebrated for art’s sake, and not concern itself with the political issues of the outside world. Therefore, much of what Wilde writes is, simply, humorous.


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