In The Importance of Being Earnest, identify uses of hyperbole.

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Hyperbole is a type of figurative language that uses exaggeration for emphasis or humor. Much of the humor in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest is either hyperbole, understatement, or irony. One way Wilde uses hyperbole as part of his satire is to make trivial things seem more important than they are. Here are some humorous uses of hyperbole from the play.

  • When Lady Bracknell asks Jack if he smokes, he says he does, and she replies, "I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind." To refer to smoking as an occupation is hyperbole.
  • Lady Bracknell states, "Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone." To praise ignorance in this way is a ridiculous exaggeration.
  • Lady Bracknell scolds Jack about his upbringing, saying that to be born or bred in a handbag "reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution." This takes a case of a single person's birth which happens to not meet her approval and compares it to a revolution that toppled a monarchy.
  • Dr. Chasuble praises Miss Prism by saying, "Were I fortunate enough to be Miss Prism's pupil, I would hang upon her lips." This is, of course, an impossible exaggeration and one that creates a humorous mental image.    
  • Algernon states that good looks "are a snare that every sensible man would like to be caught in." Of course, no sensible man really wants to be caught in a snare, so this is an exaggeration.
  • During the "tea wars," Gwendolyn tells Cecily that she, Gwendolyn, is "known for the gentleness of my disposition, and the extraordinary sweetness of my nature." She is significantly exaggerating her good character traits.      
  • When Jack must tell Gwendolyn the truth about his name, he states, "It is very painful for me to be forced to speak the truth. It is the first time in my life I have ever been reduced to such a painful position, and I am really quite inexperienced in doing anything of the kind." He exaggerates his lack of relationship with the truth.
  • When Algernon tells Lady Bracknell that Bunbury died after "the doctors found out that he could not live," Lady Bracknell states, "He seems to have had great confidence in the opinion of his physicians." That a man could die immediately because his physician said he could not live is a humorous exaggeration.
  • Lady Bracknell tells Cecily that "style largely depends on the way the chin is worn." This exaggerates the importance of how women hold their heads.
  • Lady Bracknell calls it "grotesque and irreligious" that the men want to be baptized so they can change their names. It is rather absurd, but "grotesque" is taking it too far.
  • After Gwendolyn states that she never changes, "except in my affections," Jack responds by saying she has a "noble nature," which is an exaggeration of what her comment indicated about her.
  • The play ends with Jack stating he now recognizes "the vital Importance of Being Earnest." It is fitting that a play filled with irony and hyperbole should go out reiterating the overblown importance of one of the trivialities emphasized in the play.                                                                                                                               
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The Importance of Being Earnest

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