Illustration of Jack Worthing in a top hat and formal attire, and a concerned expression on his face

The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde

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Topics for Further Study

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  • Wilde's play revolves around the necessity of telling lies in order to keep polite society polite. Is such dishonesty really necessary? What would the world be like if everyone were absolutely honest? What would happen to you if you were honest for one week?
  • Many psychologists, sociologists, and literary scholars consider Oscar Wilde's trial as the moment which marks the birth of the modern homosexual identity. Read an account of Wilde's trial or his novel, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and consider the social and aesthetic issues which surround sexual identity.
  • In many ways, Wilde's play is a send up of gender roles and a travesty of romantic idealism. Are love and marriage really as simple—or complicated—as they seem in Earnest? How should men and women behave toward each other? What do people really want in relationships? What makes for a successful or unsuccessful marriage?
  • In Earnest, people in the country behave—or at least, are expected to behave—differently from their counterparts in the city. Are the stereotypes of city and country life still with us? Identify those stereotypes and consider how population growth, shifting demographics, and urbanization have affected the ways we think about rural and urban life.
  • Critics have commented on the "triviality" of Wilde's play—that is, it's celebration of the superficial at the expense of earnest seriousness. As an advocate of the Aesthetic movement, though, Wilde might agree with those characters in Earnest who value form over content. Consider the ways Wilde's play critiques contemporary Victorian values.

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