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The most prevalent reason characters in The Importance of Being Earnest lie is to get out of social or familial duties and, instead, to do something more enjoyable. Not surprisingly, few characters hold honesty in high regard. However, we see how hard it is for characters to set things straight once they’ve lied about them. As the situation gets increasingly complicated, characters must weave more complex lies to get out of the tangles of their previous lies. Eventually they reach the point where lies will no longer work and the truth is revealed. Perhaps the most striking thing is that none of the characters ever shows true remorse or guilt about lying.

Questions About Lies and Deceit

  1. What is Jack’s first lie? How does all the action of the play depend on this one lie? In other words, if Jack had told the truth at the beginning, would the rest of the play have been possible?
  2. How do Algernon’s lies complement Jack’s lies? Does the similarity between Algernon and Jack's lies indicate that the two men are similar?
  3. How do the women’s lies compare to the men’s? Are they as deceitful? What do the women lie about?
  4. Why do the characters lie? If it is for love, do you think their lies are justified?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In The Importance of Being Earnest, the men’s lies are justified because they lie primarily so that they could spend time with the women they love.

In The Importance of Being Earnest, the men’s lies are not justified because they lie primarily to get out of social responsibilities.

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