Please explain the act-by-act importance of being Earnest in The Importance of Being Earnest.Play by Oscar Wilde.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act I of The Importance of Being Earnest, the importance of being Earnest lies in four things: John's secret identity and what it provides him; John's love for Gwendolyn; Gwedolyn's love for her idealized man; and John's rightful heritage. In town John calls himself Earnest so he can escape his life in the country looking after his ward Cecily Cardew. John is in love with Gwendolyn whom he has met in London as Earnest and proposes marriage. Gwendolyn accepts because her ideal is to marry a man named Earnest. John doesn't know his true identity or his true name.

In Act II the importance is that Algernon, John's London friend who escapes the city to go to the country to visit a sick friend named Bunbury who doesn't exist, impersonates John's brother Earnest (yes, while John is being Earnest in London with Gwendolyn...) so he can meet Cecily and falls in love with her. Moreover, he discovers that she has already fallen in love John's brother Earnest even though she has never met him...and Cecily too has an idealized longing for a man named Earnest.

In Act III the importance is that when all the loose ends are tied up pertaining to Cecily's governess Miss Prism and a book manuscript and a baby in a handbag at a train station, it is discovered that John is in fact Gwendolyn's cousin and Algernon's brother and that as an infant, before the handbag mishap, he was named after his father (and Algernon's father) and is rightly called Earnest John Moncrieff. John is Earnest after all and the greatest importance of being Earnest is that John, who is Earnest, now knows his family heritage and is rather wealthy and can marry Gwendolyn, and her husband will be Earnest after all.

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The Importance of Being Earnest

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