It is a truth universally acknowledged that earnestness is a treasurable and trustworthy feature of a human because it gives us absolute confidence. In The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) by Oscar Wilde, Jack Worthing, the protagonist of the play, is also portrayed as an earnest, serious and responsible young man. However, none can be that perfect-he is actually very deceptive in the meantime. Through Jack Worthing’s verbal mannerisms and behaviours, readers can discover the satires of Wilde with respect to the hypocrisy of the aristocrats, conventional morality and trivialized views of marriage during the Victorian Era.
It is doubtless that Jack Worthing is a hypocritical and deceptive character in the play, because he has always tried to pretend to be serious. For instances, as Jack threatens Algernon, ” It is a very ungentlemanly thing to read a private cigarette case (p. 16)” and ” Well, that is no reason why you should eat them [muffins] all in that greedy way (p. 56)”, he apparently shows us the social rules of a gentleman. Cecily even thinks that ” Dear Uncle Jack is so very serious (p. 33)”.
It seems that he is a very respectable gentleman; nevertheless, these dialogues show readers the hypocrisy of Jack entirely. Firstly, if he really gets by in that gentlemanly way, he would not have invented his brother Ernest to help him escape from the reality, which is absolutely ungentlemanly. Secondly, if he does think that eating manners of a man is that important, he will not have eaten the bread and butter in such a greedy way as on page 15. Besides, it is very irresponsible to invent a brother, Ernest Worthing, and then suddenly ” kill” him, making others like Dr.
Chasuble and Miss Prism sad and boggled. Throughout the play, readers can easily figure out many other inconsistent behaviours of Jack, who is, as a matter of fact, a general representation of the Victorian aristocrats. Therefore, Jack acts as a symbol to show readers the hypocrisy of the upper class-their actual lack of earnestness- which totally trivializes the importance of honesty in names and social personas. Furthermore, by the way Jack Worthing maintains his double life, readers can explore the Victorian conservative mindset of morality and respectability.
For example, it is certainly clear that Jack is a paradox of the play, maintaining two distinct lives: one is being serious, solemn and earnest in the country; another one is being playful, party-going and dishonest in the town. Jack explains that ” my name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country (p. 17)” because when one is in town one amuses oneself… when one is in the country one amuses other people… it is excessively boring (p. 14)”. He leads a double life because in country, he is obliged to ” has a high sense of duty and responsibility (p. 4), as the way Miss Prism comments on him.
From these, readers can figure out that Jack is living in a restrictive and unalterable society, in which the views are agonizingly blimpish and breathless that Jack has to sustain two identities in order to escape from his moral responsibility as a guardian and a gentleman. There is also another example which shows the morality of the Victorians, as seen in the ” mother requires” between Lady Bracknell and Jack (p. 26-28).
Readers can easily realize that Jack is well aware of the questions of Lady Bracknell, since Jack has been replied positively about his occupation, age, knowledge, education, property, social status and his relations, in order to gratify Lady Bracknell’s wants, which is almost needless to interpret. For instances, he choose to ” know nothing” (p. 26) after some ” hesitation”, he carefully announces that his income is ” between seven and eight thousand a year (p. 26)”, and thoroughly explains to Lady Bracknell that ” I own a house in Belgrave Square, but it is let by the year to Lady Bloxham… I cam get it back at six months’ notice.
And then Lady Bracknell responds by saying ” this is satisfactory”. These negatively show readers the conventional morality and respectability of the aristocrats in the Victorian times, who only care about a seemingly gentlemanlike or ladylike social personas and solid qualities, which is excessively restrictive. In addition, Jack’s verbal mannerisms show readers the overly trivialized views of marriage during the Victorian Era. Not only people at the time just look for ‘solid qualities’, they even acknowledge that marriage, in which the traditional foundation is love, can be controlled by factors other than love.
For instance, being desperate for marrying Gwendolen, which is the driving-force of the play, Jack decides to has himself christened again (p. 24). Moreover, when Miss Prism confesses that it is she who has left the handbag, the way Jack being extremely worried about a prove of his origin, as he says while rushing over her, ” Is this the hand-bag, Miss? Examine it carefully before you speak. The happiness of more than one life depends on your answer (p. 69)”, also shows readers that Jack, representing the aristocrats, believes that a name and an approval are more important than love when talking about courtship.
This kind of triviality of marriage might be affected by the traditional morality of the Victorians as well; but conclusively, Jack’s presence in the play is excessively essential to tell readers the way the Victorians trivialize marriage. Without a doubt, Jack Worthing or Ernest Worthing, who is apparently shown as earnest and worthy, is only an alter ego of Oscar Wilde to satirize the inversion of triviality and solemnity of the Victorian aristocracy, and express his feeling of leading a double life-being a popular playwright with a seemingly happy family and at the same time, a homosexual.
Behind the ironies, the jokes and the paradoxes throughout the play, what Wilde wants to tell readers is the extreme but unreasonable seriousness of the English upper class during the superficial society in the 18th century. After reading Jack’s dialogues, do you still believe that earnestness stands for absolute confidence? Jack Worthing’s ” earnestness” throughout the play is very hilarious indeed; but perhaps, the vital importance of being earnest is not to be earnest.