In The Importance of Being Earnest, Algernon observes that: "Women only call each other sister when they have called each other a lot of other things first." How does the development of the relationship between Cecily and Gwendolen bear out this remark? What causes them to bond together? What causes them to behave competitively?
This quote by Algernon describes Cecily and Gwendolen's first meeting in The Importance of Being Earnest. In order to understand how this meeting comes about it is important to understand the main characters of the piece and how they relate to each other.
John (Jack) Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff are good friends and the main characters in the play. John begins the piece by telling Algernon that he goes by two different names. When he is at home in the country he goes by his real name, John, or by his nickname, Jack. But when he is in town he goes by the name Earnest. This allows him to relax in town without having to worry about embarrassing himself or those who know him. This is especially important because he has a ward named Cecily. He is responsible for her since she lost her family. Algernon is very interested in meeting Cecily but John refuses to introduce them because he thinks Algernon will be a bad influence.
John is engaged to Gwendolen who is Algernon’s cousin. She has always known him as Earnest because they met in town. When John tries to tell Gwendolen that his name isn’t Earnest she shares that she has always dreamed of marrying a man named Earnest. He decides to change his name to Earnest to keep her happy and does not tell her the truth.
When John is at his home in the country he pretends to have a younger brother named Earnest who often gets into trouble. This gives him excuses to go into town. When John goes to his country home Algernon secretly beats him there and pretends to be this Earnest. He meets Cecily and they get engaged.
Gwendolen comes out to the country to seen John and meets Cecily. When she learns that Cecily is John’s ward she gets jealous, telling Cecily that she wishes Cecily were old and ugly. When Cecily tells Gwendolen that she is engaged to Earnest, the two of them get even angrier at each other because they both believe they are engaged to the same man. They continue to insult each other over tea where Cecily gives Gwendolen the exact opposite of what she wanted, like cake instead of bread and butter. This continues until John and Algernon return. Both women realize they are engaged to different men but that those men were lying about their names. This realization that they were lied to brings the two women together against the men. They call each other sister even though they were insulting each other moments before to share their anger and punish the men until they are sufficiently sorry.