The title plays on a double meaning: the word earnest (an adjective which means serious), but also the word is a name, Earnest. The protagonists of the play are Jack and his friend Algy. They have a double life. Jack lives in the country, but when he goes to London he has known as Earnest, to protect his reputation. He has a girl under his responsibility, Cecily, who thinks that Earnest is Jack’s brother. In London, Jack as Earnest, falls in love with Gwendolen, but her mother doesn’t want the marriage because Jack’s origins are unknow. Algy as invented an imaginary friend, Bunbury. In London he falls in love with Cecily, Jack’s ward. But the thinks that Algy is Jack’s brother Ernest. At the end we discover that Jack and Algy are brothers, and Jack’s name is Ernest. Finally Gwendolen can marry Ernest.
Wilde is influenced by the Restoration Comedy for his witty dialogue, while he marked an important step to the theatre of the Absurd for the double life and identity.
The play works on different levels. It is full of misunderstandings which ridicules the conventions of Victorian melodrama. The play is also a parody of love, in fact the two women are both in love with a name: Ernest. The characters of the play typically speak in paradoxes. Wilde wants to destroy Victorian’s labels on love, family, education, and for this reason “The importance of Being Earnest” can be read as a social satire on the value placed on appearances.