The Importance of Being Earnest

Hypocrisy, Folly, and Victorian Morality Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Art of Deception: Fact v. Fiction Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Marriage Theme Icon
Cash, Class, and Character Theme Icon
Name and Identity Theme Icon
Hypocrisy, Folly, and Victorian Morality Theme Icon
Men and Women in Love Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Importance of Being Earnest, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Hypocrisy, Folly, and Victorian Morality Theme Icon

A witty wordsmith, Wilde exposes the hypocrisy of the Victorians’ strict social mores through puns, paradoxes, epigrams, and inversions in the characters’ actions and dialogue. For instance the characters often say and do the opposite of what they mean, or intend. Gwendolen flips “style” and “sincerity” when she says, “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.” One would expect that “sincerity” should take precedence over “style” in “matters of grave importance” so Gwendolen’s inversion of these words appears not only funny, but also a tad foolish. Another notable inversion is Lady Bracknell’s quicksilver reversal of her approval of Algernon and Cecily’s engagement. Lady Bracknell does not think much of Cecily until she finds out that she is the heiress to a great fortune, which immediately encourages Lady Bracknell to advocate for the match. Ironically, while money alone is sufficient for Lady Bracknell to approve of Algernon’s engagement to Cecily, it is not enough for her to approve of Jack’s proposal to her own daughter Gwendolen.

Lady Bracknell exposes her hypocritical nature further when she says she disapproves of “mercenary marriages.” Yet her marriage to Lord Bracknell was motivated primarily by money—“When I married Lord Bracknell I had not fortune of any kind. But I never dreamed of allowing that to stand in my way.” Lady Bracknell’s hypocritical attitude towards marriage is not just humorous and ironic; it is also a sharp stab at the paradoxical nature of Victorian social mores. Like Lady Bracknell, Dr. Chausible’s opinion on marriage reverses quickly. In his proposal to Miss Prism he staunchly holds that the “Primitive Church did not condone marriage” yet by the plays end he seems well on his way to marrying Miss Prism anyways. Through such reversals Wilde points out the hypocrisy and foolishness of Victorian social standards.

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Hypocrisy, Folly, and Victorian Morality ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Hypocrisy, Folly, and Victorian Morality appears in each scene of The Importance of Being Earnest. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Hypocrisy, Folly, and Victorian Morality Quotes in The Importance of Being Earnest

Below you will find the important quotes in The Importance of Being Earnest related to the theme of Hypocrisy, Folly, and Victorian Morality.
Act 2, Part 1 Quotes

The good end happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

Related Characters: Miss Prism (speaker)
Related Symbols: Miss Prism’s Three-volume-novel
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

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If you are not [wicked], then you have certainly been deceiving us all in a very inexcusable manner. I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.

Related Characters: Cecily Cardew (speaker), Algernon Moncrieff
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3, Part 1 Quotes

Your Christian names are still an insuperable barrier. That is all!

Related Characters: Gwendolen Fairfax (speaker), Cecily Cardew (speaker), Jack, Algernon Moncrieff
Related Symbols: Ernest
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

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Few girls of the present day have any really solid qualities, any of the qualities that last, and surfaces…There are distinct social possibilities in your profile. The two weak points in our age are its want of principle and its want of profile.

Related Characters: Lady Bracknell (speaker), Cecily Cardew
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

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But I do not approve of mercenary marriages. When I married Lord Bracknell, I had no fortune of any kind. But I never dreamed for a moment of allowing that to stand in my way.

Related Characters: Lady Bracknell (speaker), Lord Bracknell
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

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To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other's character before marriage, which I think is never advisable.

Related Characters: Lady Bracknell (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3, Part 2 Quotes

Unmarried! I do not deny that is a serious blow. But after all, who has the right to cast a stone against one who has suffered? Cannot repentance wipe out an act of folly? Why should there be one law for men and another for women?

Related Characters: Jack (speaker), Miss Prism
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

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