In the Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, how are the subjects of marriage and pleasure explored?

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tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Oscar Wilde explores the question of whether or not pleasure can exist in marriage through Algernon and Jack's conversation at the beginning of act one. Algernon seems to defend a life full of pleasure is one without being married and Jack supports married life as a means through which to live a good life. Algernon believes that all pleasure is lost once one gets married, but Jack maintains that if a person gets married, it is because he accepts domestic life with the one person whom he loves. For Algernon, life is about finding pleasure and enjoying it; and for Jack, life is about living with the one you love. It can be inferred here that Jack is saying that love and marriage balance out life's pleasure and pain. Algernon believes that pleasure cannot exist in marriage; therefore, a man needs to go "Bunburying" in order to have an excuse to go off and enjoy himself away from home once in awhile. This places Jack in an awkward situation because Jack has been "Bunburying" as well. Jack is "Ernest" in the city and "Jack" in the country. Algernon's position on the argument is solidified because of Jack's own Bunburying escapes. Jack claims, however, that once he is married, he won't use any excuses to leave his home like he has in the past. Furthermore, he declares that he will tell Gwendolen everything about his past because she thinks his real name is Ernest, not Jack.

Wilde puts both characters' ideas to the test in the scenes to follow. Algernon is swept away into want to be married when he meets Cecily and Jack risks losing Gwendolen to the effects of his Bunburying since she will only marry a man by the name of Ernest. By pitting these two characters against their own claims, they are, in fact, caught in fixing their situations as well as changing their minds. Jack doesn't change to believe that pleasure is not available in marriage, but Algernon certainly changes his mind about it once he is in love.

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