Book Review- The Importance of Being Earnest

A masterpiece of nonsense literature The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde is HILARIOUS! Two men, Jack and Algernon, assume the name Ernest in order to win the women they love but when their secret is found out, it puts their relationships in jeopardy. A social parody, mocking high society, shallowness, wealth and position, this play makes important moral statements while keeping the audience in stitches. As part of the aesthetic movement of “Art for Art’s Sake,” Wilde takes most of what is truly valuable and labels it ‘boring’ while leaving us with nothing valuable to replace it with–family, education, marriage and work are all represented as being trivial and unimportant. Yet, we are not truly sure what Wilde would have us value instead. And that was precisely his point: Art has no obligation to teach or uphold the values or morals of society. But here Wilde made his gravest mistake because art can never be valueless. And in the 20th century attempt to remove traditional morality from the arts which followed the “Art for Art’s Sake” movement, we have simply replaced it with a new morality of tolerance and relativism. An extremely important and pivotal work, The Importance of Being Earnest will first entertain you, then it will make you think.

Themes: wealth, boredom, courtship, love, deep vs. shallow, aristocracy, deception

Principle: What is ‘boring’ is often what is most important.

Read with: A Doll’s House; The Merry Wives of Windsor; A Picture of Dorian Gray; The Selfish Giant; De Profundis

Watch: The Importance of Being Earnest; Oscar Wilde Documentary

Discussion Questions:
1- What is treated as boring in this play? Why are these things boring to these characters? Are they truly boring? Should they be boring?
2- Why is Lady Bracknell the key to the play?
3- What does it mean that this is nonsense literature? Is nonsense literature valuable? Why or why not?
4- Why is this play so funny? Is this good humor or bad humor? Why?

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