The Importance of Being Earnest Questions and Answers
by Oscar Wilde

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How is the consumption of food used as a symbol in The Importance of Being Earnest? What does food stand for? How does Oscar Wilde use symbolism in his social commentary? Use examples from the play.

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In The Importance of Being Earnest, the consumption of food and drink is used to show the differences between life as a bachelor and married life—between an overindulgent lifestyle and one that involves sharing. In some ways, food stands for the freedom of bachelorhood that can sometimes lead to excess. For example, the play opens with a scene in Algernon’s apartment. His butler is preparing the table for the tea that Algernon plans to have with his aunt. In this scene, food is used to symbolize Algernon’s excessive behavior, which he can freely engage in because, as a bachelor, there is no wife trying to rein him in.

When his aunt arrives for tea, Algernon notices that he has eaten all the cucumber sandwiches. He tells her that he was unable to buy cucumbers that day at the market. This is interesting because it underscores that Algernon has no responsibility to other people. He ate the tea sandwiches unthinkingly. He wanted them, and he did not have to stop himself and recall that...

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