What does following quote mean. I understand the language but not the thought behind it.

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” ― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

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    I’m voting to close this question because it involves literary interpretation.
    – Lambie
    Jul 26, 2020 at 14:06

3 Answers 3


Literary interpretation is largely subjective and so there will be no single answer to this question.

For instance:

alternate interpretations


The truth is rarely pure and never simple

From dictionary.com

pure: (adjective) 6. (of literary style) straightforward; unaffected

simple: (adjective) 1. easy to understand, deal with, use

My personal interpretation is that there is no one truth that is easy to understand and applicable to all situations. "The truth", much like literature, is a complex concept, difficult to explain/understand, open to interpretation and subjective.

One complexity with this statement is the interpretation of "pure". Whilst the most appropriate definition to apply is "straightforward" because it complements the adjective "simple". Pure is often used to signify "untainted", such as pure water that has not been muddied or polluted. Therefore, if the interpretation of pure were to signify "uncontaminated", this statement could also mean that the truth is rarely untainted and subject to corruption.


This is meant to be witty and ironic. It is a quote from a character in an Oscar Wilde play "the Importance of Being Earnest" a comedy written in Wilde's signature satirical and humorous style. It is a response to one of the character's confession of a lie he has perpetrated: the creation of a fictitious relative, "Earnest," to provide an excuse to avoid boring social obligations. After his confession, he says: "That, my dear Algy, is the whole truth pure and simple." to which his companion replies "The truth is rarely pure and never simple." It is a wry observation, and an ironic twist on a cliche, about the false norms of society and the twisted dishonest ways we, as imperfect humans, adapt. It is also a statement that dispels a simplistic analysis of art and culture. Oscar Wilde used humor and wit to cope with his own demons. He was a homosexual and lived a tormented life of deception in a time when homosexuality was a crime in Victorian England. He eventually spent time in jail.

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Never pure. Most truths, especially about ourselves or our actions or deeds, might also be distorted by our own conceit, our most secret shames or moral shortcomings. Only the brave... the human condition and all that.


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