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The Importance of Being Earnestsatirizes Victorian propriety, suggesting that behaving according to all of the rules can result in absurdity. It plays on the double meaning of "earnest" as being sincere (an important Victorian value) as well a person's name, for Earnest is the protagonist in the story. The play also satirizes identity, in that the protagonist has two of them, one for the city and one for the country, thus allowing him to be two different people. In fact the plot turns on a series of mistaken identities as well as a series of events mistaken in one way or another, culminating in the fact that Earnest/Jack as well as his good friend Algernon marrying the women they seek. This only occurs, however, after identities are clarified (Earnest's as well as his "ward" Cecily's and Cecily's teacher's (Miss Prism's)identity, too!) by the end of the play.
The Importance of Being Earnest is a play, not a book. But anyways, what happens in the play is that Jack Worthing has created a troublesome younger brother named Ernest, in order to escape the country. He then becomes Ernest in the city. Well, one day, he visits his friend Algernon in the city, so he can propose to Gwendolen, Algernon's cousin. Algernon, coincidentally, is hosting a tea for Gwendolen and his Aunt Augusta (Lady Bracknell). When they visit, Algernon busies Lady Bracknell so that Jack can propose to Gwendolen. However, Lady Bracknell stops the proposal and interrogates Jack about his marriage prospects. After finding out that Jack does not have a mother and a father, but was discovered in a handbag, she leaves aghast. Gwendolen comes running back in to ask for Jack's information in the country so that she might visit him. Algernon notes this and Act I ends.
In Act II, we're at Jack's country estate, where Cecily, his ward, is studying with Miss Prism, her tutor. She hates studying so she sends off Miss Prism with Dr. Chasuble asap. That's when Algernon arrives at the estate pretending to be Ernest. Cecily is ecstatic, since she's always dreamed of a romance with Ernest. Jack returns to the country, after "killing off" Ernest, only to find out that Ernest has come to his estate (as Algernon). He tries to kick Algernon out, but Algernon ends up getting engaged to Cecily instead. Meanwhile, while the two guys try to set up a rechristening (to become Ernest), Gwendolen comes to the estate to look for Ernest (Jack). She however runs into Cecily, and the two cat fight over tea over Ernest. When the two guys show up, the two girls realize they have been deceived and run into the house as "sisters" while the boys eat muffins.
In Act III, everything gets resolved. The two girls reunite with the two boys, and everything seems happy until Lady Bracknell comes running into the house demanding that Gwendolen goes back with her. She however, approves of Cecily for Algernon, which Jack disapproves, until he can marry Gwendolen. They are at a standoff until Prism is mentioned, and Bracknell goes to find her and demands to know where the baby is. This is when we find out that she lost the baby in a handbag at Victoria station at the Brighton line, cue Jack. Jack goes running for the handbag, and we find out that he's Algernon's older brother and his real name is, of course, Ernest.
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