The Importance of Being Earnest Themes | Issues Covered by O. Wilde

the importance of being earnest themes

The main purpose of Oscar Wilde was to satirize the upper-class society but it is not the only subject matter of this play. He has presented many other themes in “Importance of Being Earnest”. If this play, is alive, even today then numerous themes are the reason behind it. Oscar Wilde does not only cover a single topic but also tries to present a complete picture of his society. The genuineness of the play lies in its dialogues; therefore, every theme of the play is hidden in them. Dialogues of “Importance of Being Earnest” are required to be searched in order to get a complete list of themes. However, actions of the characters are also important regarding the theme of disputes in society. Most of the themes of this play are social, whereas others are religious. Nevertheless, religious themes can also be covered in social themes.

Themes of “Importance of Being Earnest”:

  • Satire on the upper Classes:
  • The triviality of Marriage:
  • Victorian Manners:
  • Importance of Wealth:
  • Life of Leisure:

Satire on the Upper Class:

The dramatist targetted Upper Victorian Class the most. He talks about the follies of his neighbors. He has presented a society, which has lost its values. Three major characters of this play belong to upper middle class. At the end of the play, the audience observes an increase in quantity. It is revealed to the audience that Jack also belongs to the same class. Lady Bracknell, Algernon, and Gwendoline are the remaining characters. Lady Bracknell’s character is the most important in this regard. She is a typical lady of Victorian society. She focuses on personal benefits. Apparently, she is a sober and respectable lady but deep down audience knows that she is foolish, arrogant and class conscious. Through Algernon, the dramatist adds more satire in the play while showing his immature attitude towards his responsibilities. Jack and Gwendoline do the same.

Hence, the satire on upper class is one of the clear themes of “The Importance of Being Earnest”.

The triviality of Marriage:

From the very beginning of the play, we realize that marriage has no importance in the society, which has been presented by the dramatist. Lady Bracknell has a list of wealthy persons and she is going to interview them one by one in order to choose a life partner for Gwendoline. This act of Lady Bracknell shows that marriage is just a contract instead of a serious love relationship. Mutual understanding of the partners has nothing to do with marriage in this society. Likewise, Gwendoline and Cecily want to marry a person whose name is “Earnest”. For them, name “Earnest” is enough to spend whole life instead of love. They found charm and music in that name. Algernon and Jack want to live bachelor life. They do not support marriage. Similarly, number of dialogues are there in the play, in which marriage is criticized. Oscar Wilde instead of focusing on the importance of marriage has focused on its unimportance in order to show the thinking of society. In short, “The Triviality of Marriage” is one of the most important themes of “Importance of Being Earnest”.

Victorian Manners:

Oscar Wilde describes Victorian manners to aware the people about their absurdities. Lady Bracknell presents the usual old ladies of the upper class. Algernon presents young bachelors. Gwendoline and Cecily are representatives of young ladies. We witness manner and rules of Victorian class in the whole play. In that society: old ladies want money; young men want to remain bachelors and want to enjoy life without doing any work; Gwendoline and Cicely are fashion conscious ladies. Similarly, ladies like Miss Prism are careless as reveals from his act of forgetting Jack at the railway station. It is definitely foolishness to replace a baby with the novel. Through all these characters, Oscar Wilde spreads light on the lifestyle of these people. This play does not depict both sides of Victorian society; rather, it shows us only the negative side. Perhaps the dramatist wants to say that positivity does not exist at all.

Henceforth, the Victorian manner is also included in major themes of “The Importance of Being Earnest”.

Importance of Wealth:

Wealth, indeed, has its own importance. Lady Bracknell wants a wealthy son-in-law. Proud of class and wealth are her two major characteristics. She wishes that Gwendoline should follow her in grabbing money. In the same way, Algernon wants money to survive. He although does not care about his bill yet he wants money to pay them. Jack is living a prosperous life because he has wealth. He runs from his liabilities. He has created an imaginary person “Earnest” and does not care about earning money. Lady Bracknell first rejects Jack but subsequently accepts him as husband of Gwendoline just after knowing that he is in possession of a good fortune. Thereby, in one way or the other, it is shown that wealth has much importance in one’s life. Undoubtedly, “Importance of Wealth” comes at fourth in the list of themes of “Importance of Being Earnest”.

“Life of Leisure” and “Luxurious Life”: Last but Major Themes of Importance of Being Earnest:

Jack does not do anything to live. Algernon is in debt but does not care about it. He is a bachelor and enjoying luxurious life. He wants money but does not want to work. We rarely find any character in this play, who works for a living. Every single person in this play is free even then we cannot say him jobless. It is because no one wants to work. Another minor character is important in this context i.e. “Chausable”. He is a religious person but he instead of performing his duties flirts with Miss Prism. It seems that the Victorian class wants a life of leisure. They want respect but without doing anything good for themselves and for the society. Therefore, the life of luxury and life of leisure are obvious themes of “The Importance of Being Earnest”. 

To conclude, Oscar Wilde has focused on reality. He has presented these themes in “The Importance of Being Earnest” because he wanted to reform his society. Oscar Wilde wants them to do something good for the people. He wants morality in society. Algernon and Jack are living double lives. The idea behind it is to protect their apparent respect. Apparently, they are pious but in reality, they are wicked. Hence, the difference between appearance and reality is also in the list of themes of “The Importance of Being Earnest”. In addition to it, “absurdity”, “greed”, “snobbery” and “pride” are also some relevant themes of “The Importance of Being Earnest”.