The Importance of Being Earnest
Paradox through Pacing in Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest"
In the closing lines of the first act of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," Algernon remarks, "I love scrapes. They are the only things that are never serious," to which Jack responds, "Oh, that's nonsense Algy. You never talk about anything but nonsense." Algernon caps off this exchange with a proclamation of the purpose of the whole work: "Nobody ever does" (1642). Wilde never allows anything in the work to conclude on a serious note. While Wilde repeatedly proclaims this direction for the play through his characters, he does not tell us the motivation for this direction. He never explains why there is this avoidance of earnestness. The most apparent answer lies in the veiled criticism of Victorian society contained at each level of the play. The quick paradoxical epigrams that form the core of the conversational comedy are pointed at Victorian society. Wilde also abuses the concept of characterization with paradox to create comical characters that expose Victorian deficiencies.
Each of these criticisms relies upon the paradoxes that Wilde sets up on successively larger scales within the play. It is, in fact, this tool of humor, not the object of ridicule that...
Join Now to View Premium Content
GradeSaver provides access to 1461 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 10412 literature essays, 2634 sample college application essays, 532 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.
Already a member? Log in