The Use of Humor in “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Wilde
Oscar Wilde has employed humor in writing The Importance of Being Earnest play. The play comically ridicules cultural norms regarding truthfulness, love, and marriage in the Victorian Era. One of the humor elements that Wilde uses throughout the text is puns. The play’s title consists of the word “earnest,” which has a double meaning—it functions as a man’s name and an adjective to represent seriousness. Male characters in the story, such as Algernon and Jack, introduce themselves with the identity of Ernest while lying to the women they want. However, towards the end of the play, the audience discovers that they were not untruthful. By claiming to be Ernest, Jack and Algernon were serious about their feelings towards Cecily and Gwendolen. In addition, the author illustrates how lies can help one get what they want. For example, Algernon and Jack get the attention of the women they want after lying to them. Even though they do not act truthfully, these characters are rewarded with love, yet the Victorian Age demands sincerity. Their behavior is different from that of people like Lady Brackness, a typical upper-class woman who represents the unhappiness of leading such a lifestyle. The author satirizes her lifestyle, depicting the rich people’s ridiculous folly.
Another pun illustration in the drama involves the prolonged “dentist” witticism in Act 1. The pun in this dialogue results from Jack advising Algernon to be honest by telling him not to BE like dentists who do not tell the truth about cavities, yet he is not a truthful person. Algernon thinks Jack should seek counsel and learn the rules because he is an advanced liar, making the talk ridiculous. Wilde employs this comic element to satirize love and marriage institutions throughout the story. The use of humor is effective because it addresses controversial issues light-heartedly. Wilde shows the narrow-mindedness of people during the Victorian period without offending his audience.