The title of the play gives it an air of seriousness, which the plot and narrative go on to disprove. This is another way for the author to satirize the pretentiousness of Victorian notions of propriety and morality. But this was made mostly for comic effect without any real insight into real life. There is a subtle pun implied in the title, for the unfolding action mocks the manners and norms of late Victorian England. The rechristened name of ‘Earnest’ for the central character John Worthing is a euphemism, for lying and deception are integral to how he goes about life. Irony and self-aggrandizement are other strategies for humor adopted by Wilde. (Beckson, 1970)
In sum, Oscar Wilde uses his pen as a sword against bringing down cherished Victorian virtues and values. In what constitute a social commentary, Wilde points to flaws inherent in the late Victorian society through the medium of humor. Even the overboard respect in the names he assigns to characters – The Honorary Gwendolen Fairfax, The Reverend Canon Chasuble, Mr. Algernon Moncrieff (with a deliberate choice of aristocratic sounding surnames) – is a comment and criticism both at once. The play reveals the simple mindedness, lack of moral fortitude and lack of seriousness of most of the lead characters, as they go about to achieve their own petty self-interests. This is especially applicable to John Worthing (Ernest), Algernon Moncrieff, Gwendolen Fairfax, Lady Bracknell and Merriman. The deceptive second identities assumed by both Worthing and Moncrieff illustrate the lack of integrity in their thoughts, actions and characters.
Raby, Peter, ed. (1997). The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde. London: Cambridge University Press.
Beckson, Karl E., ed. (1970). Oscar Wilde: the critical heritage, Volume 1970, Part 2, London:Routledge.