As a treasure in literature, this play has enduring attractions. It’s a topic of interest among critics. As far as this play is concerned, sociological perspective is efficient, for there are many coincidences between the author’s life and the characters’. Wilde’s tragic life also leads us to think about a profound topic: the relationship between artist and society. Within the play's framework of false identities, Wilde also planted several possible allusions to the male characters' homosexuality. By the time he wrote The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde was leading a dual life as a married man and an active homosexual.
To understand Wilde the playwright and The Importance of Being Earnest, a better way is to begin with his rhetoric. In some way, only when we understand him as a rhetorician, can we better understand him as a writer, an aesthete, a thinker and a “revolutionary moralist”. There is a use on irony also to create humour. The word 'earnest' as in the title 'The Importance of Being Earnest' means 'honest'. The Christian name referred to in the play is 'Ernest', that again hints at the same word 'earnest'. But Gwendolen and Cecily are bent upon marrying a person whose Christian name is 'Ernest'. Both Algernon, who wants to marry Cecily, and Jack who wishes to marry Gwendolen, are ready to get christened for the sake of their marriage to their bed partners. Both have at some time called themselves by the name Ernest (pretended to have Christian name of Ernest). But in reality they have not been honest. Running throughout the entire play is the double meaning behind the word ernest , which means both a male name and an adjective describing seriousness. The play twists and turns around this theme, its characters lying in order to be ernest and then discovering that because of a number of remarkable circumstances they had not in fact been lying at all. Wilde saw earnestness as a key ideal in Victorian culture.
The final comment of Jack :"I've now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest."is very meaningful. Even a few speeches earlier he had said: "...it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing bu the truth..."
As a rhetorician, he sticks to finding a still fresher way of expressing, which contributes very much to his accomplishment in writing. This can be best exemplified in the plot design of Earnest. A resolute, carefree bachelor-scoundrel named Algernon and his pal, the more buttoned-down Jack are in love with two delectable young women, both of whom have illogically sworn to marry only men named Ernest. And so the pretense — and the fun — begins. Although Wilde’s plot is wonderfully witty, his wit is serious, as he adroitly uses it to skewer the Victorian English upper class and utterly charm everyone else. Earnest poignantly and devastatingly satirizes all sorts of hypocrisies in religion, love, marriage, education, politics, etc. It is a classic story of love and a play about identity. Usually, authors of that period used the lower classes as their roving grounds for social commentary, but Wilde uses the upper classes, with which he was personally familiar.
Oscar Wilde knew the upper class and he knew that the lives they lead were so dry, boring, concerned with manners and customs, and so perfectly earnest that it was almost inhuman. It is being earnest that the play mainly focuses on, as may be surmised from the title, which suggests a treatise on the value of solemnity in everyday life.This trivialising of marriage shows Wilde's view on the matter: he saw it as a practise surrounded by absurdity. Wilde says that marriage based on class by birthright is no less stupid that marriage based on something else a man cannot control. He shows how the Victorian Era aristocracy seemed to think that marriage should involve social status and wealth rather then happiness and love and they are so concerned with social standards, and keeping to that standard, that they will act in a heartless manner that isn't earnest.
His characterization is efficient, impressive and outstanding. Earnest is a best specimen for us to understand Wilde’s aesthetic pursuits of beauty, pleasure and “immoral” art.In modern context, realism as a literary term has a different meaning from its counterpart in 19th century. In this sense, the play is a comedy of critical realism. Wilde’s persistence to amount the peak of art makes him a great modernist. The use of paradox is his favorite, by which he subverts the dominant traditional binary oppositions. Therefore, he is also a postmodernist pioneer. Indeed, sociological, stylistic, aesthetic, realistic, modernist and postmodernist views all prove to be applicable approaches in interpreting The Importance of Being Earnest, hence the ways of understanding certain works are in fact various and inexhaustible.
In three short acts, this play delivers so many laughs and classic one-liners it's difficult to appreciate the genius of it in just one reading. Fortunately, it's short enough to read twice."Sincere and studied triviality" - those are the key words, that we should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious and studied things of life with sincere, or else we too are a fool.