What Does the Importance of Being Earnest Really Mean?

After a plot-twisting series of events, Jack says to Lady Bracknell, “I’ve realized for the first time in my life the vital importance of being Earnest,” closing the play. Jack’s statement is rather ambiguous. Is he implying that he has learned the importance of honesty, or the importance of being named Ernest? It is a difficult remark to interpret because by the end of the play, the notion of earnestness has taken several different forms.

In terms of the play’s primary plot, earnestness is the quality of honesty or candor. However, it is nearly impossible to determine which characters actually display this trait, because there is a lot of lying going on. For example, Lady Bracknell believes that a woman should always lie about her age, and Gwendolen feels that “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.” Other displays of frivolous deception are scattered throughout the play, particularly in the circumstances of Jack and Algernon lying about their identities and fabricating relatives and friends. The characters seem to be quite shallow and do not typically tell the truth unless forced to by unforeseen events.

Cecily and Gwendolyn are both completely smitten with the name “Earnest,” and are both determined to marry a man by that name. As one might imagine, both women are rather disappointed when, through an unintentional series of happenings, it is revealed that Jack and Algernon lied about being named Earnest. However, when Jack’s identity and relation to Lady Bracknell and Algernon is finally revealed, he finds out that his real first name actually is Earnest. This would make it seem that Jack is finally being earnest honest, but he cannot take credit for the events that ended up revealing the truth. Earnestness, although not initiated by Jack himself, earned Jack a legitimate place in the aristocracy, a younger brother, and Lady Bracknell’s acceptance of him as a son-in-law. Perhaps his closing statement to Lady Bracknell is said in realization that candor often reveals a more desirable situation.

As for the importance of having the name Earnest, it is just as important to Jack in the end of the play as it was in the beginning, due to the fact that Gwendolyn still insists on loving an “Earnest.” While she has feelings for Jack beyond his title, his name remains a key attraction for her. Having the name Earnest earns Jack an aura of enticement that Gwendolyn finds completely irresistible. Without this name, this would not happen, and Gwendolyn would not be nearly as infatuated with Jack. Ultimately, Jack learns the value of honesty and is also reminded to cling tightly to the value of being named Earnest. Ergo, his final line of the play could be construed to the vitality of either situation; Eamest the name and earnest the adjective.

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What Does the Importance of Being Earnest Really Mean?. (2022, Dec 01). Retrieved July 21, 2024 , from
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