Overall Themes: Love…pursuit of love and marriage will work out for the best; Creating Illusion and Accepting Reality

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The Importance of Being Earnest

  1. Themes: Love…pursuit of love and marriage will work out for the best; Creating Illusion and Accepting Reality…duality of realism and illusions unfolds in a manner that turns “earnest” attitudes—Victorian stuffiness, priggishness, and hypocrisy—upside down; Nature of Marriage….Is marriage “pleasant” or “unpleasant”?; The Constraints of Morality….Victorian England had a very tight moral code (which we can question how moral it was and Wilde questions as well) and how the idea of “being Earnest” fits in;

  1. Farce: Plot is resolved through an artificial plot contrivance called a deus ex machina

  1. Parallelism: balancing of words and structure; some scenes are repeated almost word for word (discussion about names by Jack and Gwendolen in Act I and Algernon and Cecily Act III)

  1. Symbols: food (sources of conflict and food or gluttony can act as a substitute for love/sex), double life (hypocrisy of Victorian England)

  1. Foreshadowing: Jack’s adoption story leads to true identity later, Prism’s referral to 3-vol. Novel, Jack saying that G. and C. will be calling each other sister w/in minutes and Algy saying that it is only after calling each other names first

Act I

  1. Earnest is called a comedy of manners. Today, many people seem to feel that the customs and manners which serve as a guide to social behavior have been forgotten. What do customs tell us about society? Is it important to have rules that govern how we interact socially with people?

  1. Who or what do you see as a subject for criticism in
    Act I? What is Wilde trying to show by criticizing these characters or institutions?

Act II

  1. There are many discussions in Act II that are mirror images of scenes in Act; this is known as parallelism. Find one example of parallel dialogue in Act I and Act II.

  1. An aphorism is a short, witty statement that makes a wise comment about life, while an epigram is simply a clever statement that sounds good. Choose a quotation from one of the characters (either an aphorism or an epigram), identify which definition fits, and explain why.

  1. Irony occurs when what actually happens is the opposite of what is expected or appropriate. Therefore, it is ironic that Jack refuses to consent to Algernon and Cecily’s engagement. Explain the irony in his reasoning.


  1. Incongruity can create humor from statements or actions that seem out of place, time, or character. Find two examples where Wilde uses incongruity to make us laugh.

  1. Choose an adjective that describes the overall tone of the play, and explain your choice.

  1. In a farce the situations become so entangled and complicated that the ending often is purely arbitrary, or even a trick. In ancient Greek and Roman drama, the ending was sometimes brought about by a god descending from the heavens in some kind of device or machine. These arbitrary endings are called deus ex machina endings. Who is the deus ex machina in this play, and how does he or she bring about the ending?

  1. The Importance of Being Earnest criticizes Victorian attitudes about class and society. The ideas of this time and age have died out—or have they? Give your opinion and support regarding whether or not modern Americans have similar attitudes about class and social status.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Essay topics

All the characters in this play have mirror images who are similar in characteristics, situations, and even the words they use. Pick a character from the play, identify the character that is his or her mirror image and describe how they are alike.

Satire is writing that ridicules human weakness, vice, or folly in order to bring about social reform. Write an essay arguing that Earnest is or is not a good example of satire; include the definition of satire as part of your support. If you think it does, explain what is being satirized and how Wilde accomplishes this. If you think is does not, explain how the play falls short.
What is the central theme of The Importance of Being Earnest? Support you position with details from the play.
“The true test of comedy is that it shall awaken thoughtful laughter.” (George Meredith)…..Write an essay in which you show why the laughter in The Importance of Being Earnest” is “thoughtful” and how it contributes to the meaning of the work.

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