In The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, explain the potential complication of a double life.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, presents the theme of living a double life as a way to allow the main characters, Algernon and Jack, to free themselves from the social, financial, and civil expectations placed on young, upper-class men in Victorian society. Wilde seems to send a subliminal message: Men can only be truly happy when they are free to do whatever they want.

However, the complications that may arise from a libertine lifestyle are plenty. First, we find out at the beginning of the play on Act I, Scene one, that neither Algernon nor Jack were aware of each other's double lives. Algernon only found out about Ernest being "Jack in the country" when he read the inscription on Ernest's lost cigarette case.  This would have complicated their friendship because it is clear that they were not honest with each other.

Second, the freedom that Algernon and Jack felt when they led their double lives made them feel invincible: Jack ran huge restaurant bills posing as Ernest in the city, and Algernon continuously ran away to the country to escape his responsibilities under the pretense that he was going to visit his invalid friend, Bunbury. Both Jack and Algernon felt that none of their lies would catch up with them, and none of them thought of the people they would affect by escaping whenever they felt like it.

Hence, Algernon and Jack were rather selfish in their choices when they did as they wished. Eventually, everything did catch up with them when the ladies they loved, Cecily and Gwendolen, found them out.

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The Importance of Being Earnest

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