Name and discuss three ways in which the word Earnest is interpreted)This question is based on the play: The importance of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Please include evidence in the play to...

Name and discuss three ways in which the word Earnest is interpreted)

This question is based on the play: The importance of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Please include evidence in the play to support aech interpretation.

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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To be "Earnest" is to be sincere, and honest. However, in a play of "trivialities", the opposite of what is said is what is true. In this particular aspect, when at the end it says

 Lady Bracknell:    “My nephew, you seem to be displaying signs of triviality.”
Jack:    “On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.”


What is really happening is that Earnest is giving credit to the idea of the hypocritical Victorian society which claims its own earnestness, honesty, and virtue, but lives a double life (much like Earnest himself) of snobbery, and shallowness.

Another meaning for Earnest, is "serious", yet, the relationship between he and Algy is not a serious one at all- they both go and eat out, rake huge bills, and they even hide their alter egos from each other until the moment Algy discovers that Earnesta is also named "Jack (in the country)". Therefore, it is another triviality that someone whose name and rank in life as a guardian and landowner means seriousness, also happens to live a life of debauchery and aloofness. It is specifically stated when Algernon says:

Algernon. You have always told me it was Ernest. I have introduced you to every one as Ernest. You answer to the name of Ernest. You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most earnest-looking person I ever saw in my life. It is perfectly absurd your saying that your name isn’t Ernest.

The final meaning of Earnest that I can think of is "worthy of trust", as his name is "Earnest Worthing". This is a suggestion, as it is known that the name "Worthing" could have been used because it was the place where Wilde wrote the play. However, the fact that his name was Earnest Worthing made Gwendolyn feel "vibrations" and when she said:

Gwendolen. Jack?… No, there is very little music in the name Jack, if any at all, indeed. It does not thrill. It produces absolutely no vibrations… I have known several Jacks, and they all, without exception, were more than usually plain. Besides, Jack is a notorious domesticity for John! And I pity any woman who is married to a man called John. She would probably never be allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment’s solitude. The only really safe name is Ernest.

However, scholars also argue that the name "Earnest" is a code word for Uranian, which is a secret homosexual term used by the literati back in Victorian times, which originated in Germany. Being that Wilde loved to play with codes, it is assumed that the entire play was an allegory to his own personal life, and that he used code words as signals to his Uranian followers to take a different perspective in the story.

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