The Importance of Being Earnest: Irony & Satire Themes

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  • 0:01 Plot Summary
  • 1:56 Literary Elements
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

'The Importance of Being Earnest' is a comedic play written by Oscar Wilde. The story is filled with satire and irony regarding the lives of people in Victorian society. Learn more about the play and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Plot Summary of the Importance of Being Earnest

How important is it for you to be who you are? Would you change yourself in order to lead a less complicated or more adventurous life, or would you feel satisfied with who you are? The play The Importance of Being Earnest takes a satirical look at the lives of two men who lead double lives in order to escape their own responsibilities. In the end, the real identities of both men are discovered, and they are able to lead more fulfilling lives.

The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedic play written by Oscar Wilde. It tells the story of Jack Worthing, a man who leads a double life to pursue the pleasure he lacks in his own life. Jack is the play's protagonist. In his real life, Jack has many responsibilities including being the guardian of Cecily Cardew, and a landowner with many employees dependent on him. Jack feels overwhelmed by his own life and pretends to have a brother named Ernest, so that he can escape from the responsibilities of his own life. Jack lives in the country and views his life as boring. When he travels to London as Ernest, he acts the way a young socialite would and has a lot of fun. Ernest is said to be irresponsible and has to be rescued by Jack. In reality, Jack uses Ernest as an excuse to escape from his own life. Ernest does not exist; Jack goes to London to have fun and calls himself Ernest when he is there.

Algernon, Jack's best friend, is not surprised by the possibility of Ernest leading a double life because he, himself, does the same thing. He pretends to have a friend named Bunbury in order to escape his own busy life and escape to the country. After Algernon falls in love with Ernest's ward, Cecily, he pretends to be Ernest to gain her approval. Eventually, the identities of Jack and Algernon are discovered and both men decide to change their names to Ernest in order to gain the approval of their love interests.

Literary Elements in the Importance of Being Earnest

In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde uses a number of literary elements, such as irony and satire, to enhance the overall story. Irony is the use of words to communicate a meaning that is opposite of its real meaning. There are many types of irony. The two types of irony used in The Importance of Being Earnest are situational and dramatic irony.

Situational irony involves a situation where an outcome is different than what you might expect. For example, Lady Bracknell does not want her daughter, Gwendolen, to marry Ernest, even though he is wealthy and has a good reputation. Instead of Lady Bracknell focusing on Ernest's good qualities, she only focuses on a minor issue that Ernest cannot control: his family background. On the other hand, Lady Bracknell is happy for Algernon to marry Cecily when she discovers that Cecily is wealthy even though she is Jack's ward.

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