Compare the relationships between Jack and Gwendolen with that of Algernon and Cecily in Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest."

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sean475 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, there are many similarities in the relationship and eventual marriage of Jack and Gwendolen on one hand and Algernon and Cecily on the other. Many of these are apparent from the text, like the fact that, for a time, neither woman actually knows the true name of the man she is engaged to marry.

One important, though very subtle, aspect of these two relationships is how social status and class impacts them. In Victorian England, when Wilde wrote the play, couples were expected to use marriage to move up the social ladder or, at the very least, not marry someone lower down.

Unfortunately, with wealth concentrated in the hands of so few people, this whittled down the options for marriage, something that Wilde plays with in The Importance of Being Earnest. When it comes out that Jack was an orphan who was found in a handbag, emphasis is placed on where the handbag was found: a train stop in a fancy part of town, suggesting that he comes from a wealthy, albeit still unknown, family.

It is when Jack's heritage gets revealed, though, that this criticism that Wilde levies on the upper class in Britain becomes even more telling: Jack is the oldest son of Lady Bracknell's deceased sister, making him Algernon's older brother and, importantly to Gwendolen, making Jack's real name "Earnest." While everyone focuses on the fact that Jack really is named Earnest, though, Wilde has slipped a key piece of information under the radar: Jack and Gwendolen, now set to marry, are cousins.

tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Oscar Wilde's play, "The Importance of Being Earnest," the two sets of couples have many similarities between them. First, both sets of relationships are based on the fact that the female does not know the true name of her beloved when they commit to their engagements. Both men vow to be christened again with the name of Earnest after hearing that the female in the relationship loves the name. And, as required by the social norms of the time period, both sets must have guardian permission before each marriage can take place. Both potential brides find out that they were lied to about their fiances' names at the same time and both are equally shocked to have discovered the lie. The number of similarities between the two couples causes and uncanny irony that aides in the development of the plot and creates humor and tension at the same time.

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The Importance of Being Earnest

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