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The title of the play “The importance of being Earnest” is significant, because it is the name Earnest that establishes identity and relationships for both the major male protagonists. While it is originally a name that was assumed by Jack and Algernon, it proves to be…
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In Jack’s case, his friendship with Gwendolyn commenced in London when he was moving under the guise of Earnest, It was as Earnest that Jack had first captured Gwendolyn’s attention and affection, while Algernon deliberately assumes the identity in order to approach Cecily, Jack’s niece and ward. Hence, the name Earnest is significant in imparting acceptability to the respective suitors. In Jack’s case, as Algernon states: “You answer to the name of Earnest. You look as if your name was Earnest. You are the most earnest looking person I ever saw in my life.” (Act I, Part II). Gwendolyn’s affection is directed specifically at a man she sees as Earnest in her own mind and is reflected in her delight when she discovers that Jack is actually Earnest after all: “Ernest! My own Earnest! I felt from the first that you could have no other name!” (Act II, part 2). Hence, capturing the attention and affection of their lady loves is one solid reason for the importance of the name Earnest.
The most significant reason however, for the importance of being Earnest, lies in the bestowal of a noble identity on Jack as a result of the name. Since he was adopted after being discovered in a large handbag at a railway station, his antecedents remain unknown. This is a barrier for him in class and status conscious Victorian society and is also the cause for Lady Bracknell being unfavourably disposed towards him. At the end of the play, Miss Prism’s confessions disclose the fact that Jack is none other than General Moncrieff’s eldest son and as such would have also inherited his name. When Jack goes through the army records, he finds out that the General’s name was indeed Earnest; as a result his own name was also actually Earnest. Hence the name Earnest is all tied up with Jack’s lineage and identity and is significant and ...
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