The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

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Analyze the conflicts presented in Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest.

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favoritethings eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think the main conflict of the play is of the character versus society variety. Jack Worthing certainly has a number smaller conflicts with Algernon, with Gwendolen's aunt Augusta, and even, eventually, with Gwendolen herself, but these are often only the result of some overarching conflict that he has with society's standards and mores. Jack invents a fictitious and badly behaved brother called Ernest so that he can escape the restrictive Victorian world of unpleasant social obligations and rigid moral standards. (Algernon invents a fictitious invalid friend named Bunbury for the same reasons.) Jack conflicts with Algernon as a result of Algernon's discovery of Jack's alter-ego, Ernest, as well as Algernon's exploitation of that alter-ego. Jack conflicts with Aunt Augusta because he does not have the appropriate family status or connections that society expects in a match for such an upper-class woman. He eventually conflicts with Gwendolen as a result of his creation of this fictitious brother Ernest, with whom she falls in love because she's always wanted to love someone named Ernest, and she is displeased with him when he finds out about the lies he told to escape society's strict expectations for right behavior.

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tinicraw eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The word "conflict" means for someone or something to disagree. There are three major conflicts in Wilde's play "The Importance of Being Earnest," which are between Jack and Lady Bracknell, between Jack and Algernon, and when the women want to marry only men whose names are Ernest. First, Jack and Lady Bracknell are at odds because Jack wants to marry her daughter, but she doesn't think he is socially acceptable due to his lack of parentage. Second, Jack and Algernon are at odds because of their different personalities and views on "Bunburying." (And due to the fact that Algernon plays a Bunbury on Jack, which was highly deceptive.) Finally, and most importantly, the conflict between the women's desires to marry men whose names are Ernest and common human sense brings to light the absurdity of setting illogical conditions on love and marriage. Through these types of conflicts in the play, tension is created, but fun is achieved as the problems are worked out in ironic ways.

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