By the end of the play The Importance of Being Earnest, has Jack really learned the importance of being earnest?

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No, Jack/Ernest Worthing has not truly learned "the importance of being earnest" at the end of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest. The ending of the play is meant to be ironic.

Early in the play, we learn that Jack Worthing has been using the name...

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No, Jack/Ernest Worthing has not truly learned "the importance of being earnest" at the end of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest. The ending of the play is meant to be ironic.

Early in the play, we learn that Jack Worthing has been using the name Ernest while he's in London. He explains to Algernon, "Well, my name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country" (act 1). He claims that he does so because he must guard his reputation due to his responsibility for his ward, Cecily Cardew. He adds, "I have always pretended to have a younger brother of the name of Ernest, who lives in the Albany, and gets into the most dreadful scrapes" (act 1). Algernon understands immediately that what Jack does is similar to his own practice of "Bunburying." Jack emphasizes, however, that he intends to stop using his false persona so that he can settle down and marry Gwendolen Fairfax. Later in act 1, Jack learns that Gwendolen will only marry a man named Ernest, so he plans to be christened by that name as soon as possible. The name Ernest is a pun on the adjective "earnest," which means sincere and genuine. Jack and Algernon are both disingenuous when using the name, so Wilde's pun is also an example of irony.

The men's false "Ernest" personas are exposed at the end of act 2, and the women are horrified to learn they are not named Ernest. However, when the men vow to go through with the christening to change their names, the women seem satisfied. The end of the play, though, exposes the truth of Jack's birth once Lady Bracknell identifies Miss Prism as the woman who used to care for the young Jack and Algy as babies, before she misplaced Jack in a handbag at Victoria Station when he was an infant.

Finally, once Jack knows his true heritage, they all look up his real name, by looking up his father's name in the army registry. It turns out that his name "is Ernest after all" (act 3). He laments that "it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth" (act 3). This is meant to be humorous and ironic. Jack has learned nothing; he has basically gotten away with a lifetime of lies. He has been lucky in finding out, quite accidentally, that he truly was who he said he was all along. The ironic twist at the end shows that members of the upper class can live reckless lives with impunity.

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In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde's use of epigrams (contradictory statements) is what anchors the comedic aspect of the play. Along with the use of epigrams, Wilde employs irony to drive the situations that twist the plot and that make the the dialogues and dynamics among the characters paradoxical.

The final phrase of the play,

I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.

is an example of the use of irony and paradox to convey the opposite of what is going on.

Jack is never honest in the play. He never intends to tell anybody his real name until his fake persona is "found out", first by Algernon, and then by Cecily and Gwendolen. Claiming that his name is Ernest for his own convenience, he also lies, to his love interest, Gwendolen, and to Gwendolen's mother, Lady Bracknell.

He is dishonest to Miss Prism, Cecily and Dr. Chasuble telling them that he has a wicked brother in London named Ernest who causes havoc; that, for that reason, he has to go to London to solve Ernest's problems. This is a lie because the reason why Jack goes to London is "to become" Ernest, to run bills in restaurants, and to cause havoc with Algernon. This is why Algernon is shocked in Act I to find out that his friend Ernest's real name is Jack.

Additionally, he is dishonest when he falsely claims that his wicked brother Ernest died from "a chill". This, he does intentionally to end his double life and marry Gwendolen the proper way. Little does he know that Algernon already took the advantage by showing up in Jack's estate pretending to be "the wicked brother Ernest".

All this being said, the play ends with a shocking twist: Jack's real father's name is Ernest and, since Jack is his eldest son, Jack duly gets his father's name. This means that Jack, who lied about being Ernest and about many other things, overrules everything that he did and claims that, after all, he was telling the truth.

When Wilde uses the phrase "the vital importance of being earnest" he does it with two intentions: to point out the irony of the situation, to question the real value of truth versus falsehood. In Wilde's treaty The Decay of Lying, Wilde favors lying as a form of art. Aesthetics favor the fake versus the real; life should imitate art, and not the opposite. In true Wildean fashion, Jack does NOT learn the importance of being earnest. He actually admires the fact that his lying led nowhere, that providence rendered him truthful, and that there will be no consequence as a result of his lies because...they have turned into truths.

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