Importance Being Earnest Term Paper

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in “The Importance of Being Earnest” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1 : The Importance of Being Earnest as a Morality Play

Oscar Wilde lived and wrote during the Victorian era, a time characterized by an emphasis on strict moral values. One can argue that The Importance of Being Earnest is a morality play, for its lesson to the reader is that honesty is always the best policy. Although the lesson is an obvious one that reinforces the values of Wilde’s day, there is much about the play that is not conventional. Wilde’s skill and success lay in the fact that he was able—through the use unconventional images and relationships—to create an engaging story that reinforced dominant social values.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2 : What is Earnestness, Anyway? The Meaning of “Earnest”

As the title of the play states directly, it is important to be earnest. Yet it seems that the characters in the play do not agree exactly about what earnestness is. Furthermore, while they generally agree that earnestness is important, they go about embodying it—or failing to do so—in diverse ways; lying, being hypocritical, etc. In this essay, two characters and their respective definitions of and approaches to earnestness will be compared and contrasted. By examining the different definitions of earnestness, the writer will offer an argument about what the author defined as earnest and why he believed this quality was important.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3 The Alter Ego of Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest

Any character analysis of Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest should note that he is a man who, in his “real" life, is shouldered with numerous responsibilities as an upstanding citizen of society. Interestingly, he creates an alter ego for himself, a character whom he calls Ernest, an obvious play on words that emphasizes the meaning of the title, The Importance of Being Earnest. Ernest is everything that Jack is not: exciting yet irresponsible. Over the course of the play, the tension of embodying two disparate personalities becomes unbearable, but the more Jack tries to be earnest and less Ernest, the more complicated his relationships become. Ultimately, he learns that he is Ernest, a change of name that also suggests a change of identity. When this information is revealed, it seems that Jack can finally embrace who he is: a complex character with facets of responsibility and, in equal measure, irresponsibility.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4 : Gender Roles in The Importance of Being Earnest

The male and female characters in The Importance of Being Earnest all fulfill Victorian gender stereotypes. Jack (in the guise of Ernest) and Algernon are Victorian dandies, bachelors who indulge freely in the good life. Gwendolen is the very paragon of Victorian femininity, and is so superficial that she declares she refuses to marry a man whose name is not Ernest. In this essay, the rigidity of gender roles, both for men and for women, and examined, and the effect of the inflexibility of these roles is analyzed.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5 : Jack’s Likeability in The Importance of Being Earnest

In many respects, Jack is a thoroughly likeable character. He is a man of responsibility and respectability, and he is well-liked by others. His alter ego, however, casts his likeability into doubt and as the reader quickly learns, he embodies the hypocrisy that is in question throughout the play. By examining the two aspects of Jack’s self, one can argue that Jack becomes less likeable because he is inauthentic. While one may empathize with his struggle to reconcile a part of himself about which he is ashamed, such empathy does not make Jack more endearing to the reader. Instead, he is profoundly flawed because he continues the charade even when it is clear it is no longer sustainable.

* Click here for a that looks at a few other themes in The Importance of Being Earnest in conjunction with a related work of drama *

This list of important quotations from “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “The Importance of Being Earnest” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes from “The Importance of Being Earnest” alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Oscar Wilde they are referring to.

“You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come to town as often as you like." (7)

“We live, as I hope you know… in an age of ideals." (11)

“[M]y ideal has always been to marry some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence." (11)

“[G]irls never marry the men they flirt with. Girls don’t think it right." (16)

“It is a very ungentlemanly thing to read a private cigarette case." (16)

“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his." (17)

“I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever now-a-days. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left." (17)

“If Gwendolen accepts me, I am going to kill my brother, indeed, I think I’ll kill him in any case." (19-20)

“A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it." (20)

“Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?" (59)


Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. Cheswold, DE: Prestwick House, 2005


Critical Research Paper: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

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Thesis statement

Honesty is the foundation of human relationships that reinforces success in our daily endeavors.

Thesis outline

With the context of exposing the high melodrama of Victorian society, Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of being Earnest” is considered to be one of the best examples representing the genre of ‘comedy of manners’. The play contains all the characteristic attributes of the society – ranging from self-righteous moralism, hypocrisy, to the triviality and shallowness of human mind. This is Wilde’s best play that mocks humorously at the 19th century English society and life.

The research paper proposes to address two of the most significant aspects of “The Importance of being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde – a) the importance of honesty in relationships as illustrated by Wilde in the play and b) the use of humor exercised in the play. Wilde articulates the sheer artificiality of the Victorian society with perfection through the main character portrayals in “The Importance of being Earnest”, Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, and the people related to them.

The pile of lies created by these two young men constitutes the crux of the plot. The duality of their lives is manipulated in order to woo the love of their lives – Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew, respectively. What stimulates the epicenter of this hilarious satire is the fictitious identity of Ernest. It is the name validating Jack’s dual life. Algernon confronts Jack in a self-convincing manner,

“You have always told me it was Ernest. I have introduced you to every one as Ernest. You answer to the name of Ernest. You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most earnest-looking person I ever saw in my life.” (Wilde p. 14)

To which Jack reveals his dual identity,

“Well, my name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country.” (Wilde p. 15)

Truth is an element ironically established in the Victorian melodrama. How far honesty can proceed as a high moral tone valued by the society, is a matter of concern. Or, is it that simple? Algernon speaks out in satirical tone,

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!” (Wilde p. 17)

The basic sense of contemptuous humor is situated in the very title of the play. Earnestness or sincerity itself is the greatest enemy of morality in “The Importance of being Earnest” (The Importance of being Earnest 2008). It is interesting to find seriousness and triviality replacing one another in the play.

This is what as demonstrated by Oscar Wilde, comprises the hallmarks of the typical Victorian character. The choice of implicating a variety of contradictory denotations by the term ‘earnest’ is shown in the play, although the word “inspires absolute confidence” believed by the two young ladyloves.

Earnestness can take many forms, including complacency, pomposity, self-righteousness and sense of duty. Jack too believes that the word does not make him eligible to be chosen as his name when he reveals to his love Gwendolen,

“Personally, darling, to speak quite candidly, I don‘t much care about the name of Ernest…I don‘t think the name suits me at all.” (Wilde p. 25)

What is then so special about Ernest, is explained by Wilde in terms of humorous satire in “The Importance of being Earnest”. It is the smugness and sheer arrogance in the form of moralism in the Victorian society that induces Jack and Algernon to invent their imaginative identities of Ernest Worthing in order to escape the rebukes of propriety and decency.

The shallowness of Victorian mind is depicted in a humorous manner in Wilde’s ‘comedy of manners’. Wilde is particularly sensitive about the character portrayals when it comes to describing the typical English society of the late 19th century. Gwendolyn and Cecily are the young ladies who love to express their romantic relationships based on a whimsical fact that they are engaged to men named Ernest.

The consequence becomes hilarious when they both come to the eventual realization that neither is really named Ernest. The characters of Gwendolen and Cecily are significant examples of how frivolous and stupid women were thought to be as well as how humorous their shallow thoughts were (Swenty 2005). Lady Bracknell is another example as described by Jack in front of her nephew Algernon,

“Lady Bracknell is one. In any case, she is a monster, without being a myth, which is rather unfair.” (Wilde p. 34)

Algernon further reveals to Jack the shallowness of relationships, which also ironically represents the essence of the entire Victorian society.

“Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die.” (Wilde p. 34)

The amount of wit and sarcasm practiced by Wilde has hardly any match in any other playwright of his time. Wilde exploits irony and humor in “The Importance of being Earnest” by artistically incorporating them in the conversation as well as the thoughts of the characters. Most of the interactions between the characters exercise the mocking mannerisms of the high-class English society in the Victorian era.

In other words, “The Importance of being Earnest” can be best described as a comedy of manners that satirizes the attitudes and behavior of the fashionable English society in the 19th century (Shyba 2002).

The double life or duality of existence is the central metaphor in Wilde’s “The Importance of being Earnest”. This is personified more specifically by the inventive identity of Ernest Worthing. This duality of hypocrisy in Victorian mindset comes out from the very basic “earnest/Ernest” joke in the play.

The humor is sarcastically aimed at mocking the Victorian notions of respectability and duty. Gwendolyn wishes to marry a man called Ernest simply because the name “inspires absolute confidence”, although the actual person do not necessarily possess the qualities that comprise earnestness. What is more important to Gwendolen is the ideal name than the actual qualities of the man in her life. Gwnedolen’s words speak it so clearly when she reveals to Jack or Ernest,

“For me you have always had an irresistible fascination. Even before I met you I was far from indifferent to you. We live, as I hope you know, in an age of ideals. The fact is constantly mentioned in the more expensive monthly magazines, and has reached the provincial pulpits, I am told; and my ideal has always been to love someone of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you.” (Wilde p. 24)

What makes “The Importance of being Earnest” is a delightful work of art is the continuous flow of humor maintained by Wilde throughout the play. The witty dialogues and characterizations of Oscar Wilde genuinely evokes the essential elements of the Victorian melodrama. In this context, “The Importance of being Earnest” is the best and well-received play of Wilde. Therefore, in order to conduct a deeper evaluation of the Victorian mindset, a critical analysis of the play makes considerable sense.


Shyba, Lori M. “Oscar Wilde and Joe Orton: Similarities and Differences”. The Gameshow Avatar. 2002: 1-24.

Swenty, Michelle. “Book review: The Importance of being Earnest”. The Missouri Minor. 11 March 2005. 2006. <>.

“The Importance of being Earnest”. Spark Notes. 2008.

“The Importance of being Earnest”. Wikipedia. 2008. 13 Dec 2008

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Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of being Earnest. Iowa: 1st World Publishing, 2004.

Critical Research Paper: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

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