In Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, what is important about the scene where Lady Bracknell interviews Jack?

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The scene from act 1 in which Lady Bracknell interviews Jack is an excellent example of Oscar Wilde's satire. Just before this scene, Lady Bracknell has discovered that her daughter Gwendolen wants to marry Jack Worthing (who Gwendolen thinks is named Ernest). Lady Bracknell then asks Jack a series of questions to determine whether he is worthy of her daughter. In this scene, Wilde satirizes the Victorian upper class's values and mannerisms and also pokes fun at the qualities the upper class looks for when arranging a marriage.

When Lady Bracknell learns that Jack and Gwendolen are engaged, she first proclaims that they are not, in fact, engaged since they do not have her approval. She dismisses her daughter to the carriage and takes out a notebook and pen to record Jack's answers. The first question she asks is whether he smokes, and Jack replies that he does. Lady Bracknell is pleased because "a man should always have an occupation of some kind" (12). This is ridiculous because smoking is not an occupation in the sense of a job; Wilde suggests here that the wealthy have to do something with their time because they do not have to work for a living. Characters like Jack inherit their wealth and social status, so their "occupations" do not have to be productive.

Lady Bracknell continues to ask Jack a a series of questions that are superficial and/or related to his wealth and property. She has to know if Jack is an equal to his daughter in terms of social status. She disapproves of some of his answers, though, like the fact that his town home is on "the unfashionable side" of London. She seems to overlook that he is renting the house out and must ask his tenant's permission to use his own house (that seems it would be a bigger issue). 

The humor of the scene becomes most apparent when Lady Bracknell asks Jack about his parents. He does not know who they are because he was accidentally left in a handbag at a London train station as an infant. He says that he "lost" his parents, and Lady Bracknell replies, "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness" (14). This is ridiculous because he was an infant and clearly had no control over the situation. To then suggest that he is in some way to blame for his parents seems unfair; however, this gets to the root of the social construct that Wilde satirizes. Since members of the upper class decided who they married based on money and family name, they really are judging others by those superficial possessions and not by their characters.

Lady Bracknell advises Jack to do the impossible: find his parents before he marries Gwendolen. Lady Bracknell must know from whom Jack descends before she approves the match. This scene shows us what the upper class values and what is required in order to arrange an appropriate marriage. 

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