Illustration of Jack Worthing in a top hat and formal attire, and a concerned expression on his face

The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde

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How does the playwright Oscar Wilde present the relationship between Jack and Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest?

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Jack and Algernon are friends who seem to have known each other socially for a while; however, in Act I, we learn that Algernon doesn't know that Jack's name isn't actually Ernest Worthing (it's Jack). Once this detail is revealed, Algernon posits a key similarity: both men are Bunburyists. Jack is resistant to define himself in these terms, but the truth is that both men have either a second identity or a fictional friend/brother whom they can use to avoid social responsibility and pursue their playboy lifestyles. The main difference between the two characters in this scene is that Jack wants to "kill [his] brother" to marry Gwendolen: he wants to do away with the Ernest personality and legally change his name to Ernest. He wants to settle down with one woman and put away his irresponsible past. Algernon is more playful, while Jack is more serious. However, the characters speak to each other in a witty banter that is typical of both of their personalities.

Wilde puts these characters into situations that highlight their ultimate similarity. For example, a scene in Act I, where Jack and Gwendolen discuss the name Ernest, and a scene in Act II, where Algy and Cecily discuss the name Ernest, are nearly identical. Later, the scenes in which the ladies learn the men's real names sees the men and women acting in almost the exact same manner and reciting the same lines. Ultimately, these characters are more similar than Jack may be willing to admit. We learn at the end of the play that they are actually brothers, sealing the similar nature of these friends and relatives.

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The relationship between Jack and Algy is a humorous one. It is as if Algy were a pesky little gadfly in Jack's life. However, he seems to be a gadfly that Jack can't stay away from.

At the beginning of the play, Jack has called on Algy, so Jack takes the initiative to connect with him. But as the conversation progresses, Algy tries to wheedle information out of Jack and generally gets under his skin. He tries to find out where Jack lives in the country and who Cecily is. While this is happening, the men exchange banter and fight over food--showing distinctly immature reactions toward each other.

When Algy arrives at Jack's place in the role of Ernest, Jack is incensed. He says, "Nothing will induce me to take his hand. I think his coming down here disgraceful. He knows perfectly well why." He tells Algy that he will never be allowed to marry Cecily, and Algy responds by saying it's just as unlikely that he will marry Gwendolyn. Again, they descend into a food fight over the muffins. Jack tells Algy to leave, and he refuses.

In the final scene when Jack finds out that Algy is his little brother, their whole relationship makes perfect sense. Algy has been acting like an annoying little brother to Jack all along. Jack states, "Algy, you young scoundrel, you will have to treat me with more respect in the future." He tells Algy, with great irony, that he has never treated him like a brother in all his life. Algy says, "I did my best, however, though I was out of practice." 

At the end, the two men shake hands, and Algy's role as the pesky little gadfly hovering around Jack is confirmed as his rightful place.

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In the beginning of the play, Jack and Algernon seem to have known each other as friends for some time. They speak to each other sarcastically and say things that suggest that they have known each other a while. For example, in Act I, Algernon asks if it is seven, or time to go to dinner. Jack says, "Oh! it always is nearly seven," referring to Algernon's continual need to eat. Algy explains that he is hungry and Jack says, "I never knew you when you weren't," (, eText, pg. 25). This dialogue suggests that they have known each other for a long time, but how they met is never addressed. As far as their personal friendship is concerned, however, the two men seem to be slightly disrespectful towards one another due to their differences of opinion on life, marriage, and responsibility. Jack is more conservative than Algy is, for instance, and it tends to give way to "clever" remarks and off-handed put downs between them. In the end, the two men discover that they are brothers and the relationship seems to be solidified and more understandable at the same time.

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In they play The Importance of Being Earnest, explain the shifting relationship of Cecily and Gwendolen.

In the play The Importance of Being Earnest the characters of Gwendolen and Cecily serve as mirrors of each other. Their characters are rather flat, since they do not change throughout the play. Yet, they are useful characters that present a social reality at the time the play was written: The silly nature of the courtship and marriage processes in Victorian society.

Gwendolen and Cecily are young girls who share an equal obsession to marry someone named "Ernest". They were fixated with the name and were willing to chose a man just for the sake of this detail.

When the two women met by accident at Jack's country estate they were already "engaged" to their respective "Ernests". Gwendolen was engaged to Jack, who used the fake name Ernest when he was in the city visiting her. On the other hand, Cecily's "Ernest" was none other than Algernon who came to Jack's country house pretending to be Ernest, the name of Jack's fake evil brother.

The shifting in the relationship of Cecily and Gwendolen began when they first met and acted as if they would be great friends. Yet, as their conversation progressed, Cecily and Gwendolen thought that they were both engaged to the same man. This caused a showdown between the two women during tea time, in which they declared war on each other, shifting from friendship to hatred.

Once the situation was clarified, the women shifted back to being friends. They were especially united when they realized that neither of their fiances was named Ernest. Because of this, the women became a united front and expected a dramatic apology from the part of the men who, unfortunately for the ladies, stayed behind eating the muffins and cakes that they women did not eat during their tea fight.

Therefore, the shifting relationship between Cecily and Gwendolen was based on their willingness to fight one another for the love of their "Ernest". However strong their bond might seem after they were clarified, one can tell that their so-called friendship is not based on a solid foundation and one can almost predict another showdown happening over something silly some time in the future.

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How does Wilde present the relationship between Cecily and Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest?

The play intentionally makes double characters make mirrors of each other. For example, Jack and Algy are reflections of each other's thoughts and behaviors. Even Jack and Algy's butlers are reflective of each other.

Similarly Gwen and Cecily, though are from different social ranking, are still exact replicas of each others' frames of mind: 

First, Wilde foreshadowed the relationship on Act I, when Jack told Algernon that the girls will be pleased to meet and that the relationship of Cecily and Gwen will grow until they call each other "sisters", to which Algernon replied: "That's after they call each other many other things"- which is what occured.

Second, Wilde puts similar dialogues on each female character: Both obsessed with the name Earnest, both idealizing love and marriage, and both stopping at nothing to get what they want. Also, both are not presented as sharp and brilliantly as Algy and Jack, both lack lustre as characters, and -as stated before- are reflections of each other.

Third: As both Gwen and Cecily had just become entangled to an "Earnest" (Jack and Algernon respectively) they thought to be each other's rivals. This is when Wilde dictates a witty showdown between the two, which discloses that, different social status or not, the two women are exact behavioral clones of each other.

Gwendolyn used rank, status,and sarcastic witticism to bring down Cecily, and Cecily used the same amount of witticism, sarcasm, and come backs to beat down Gwendolyn.

None of the women out did the other, for they are a representation of the Victorian female desperation and idealization of marriage that Wilde criticized so much.

In the end, they did call each other "sisters- after they would have called each other many other things", continued their insane obsession over the name Earnest, and ended up fulfilling their wishes by becoming engaged to these two men they hardly knew well but by name.


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