Please analyze the following quotation from The Importance of Being Earnest: "I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would...

Please analyze the following quotation from The Importance of Being Earnest:

"I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy" Act2

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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This quotation is spoken by Cecily during her first conversation with Algernon in Act II of The Importance of Being Earnest.

As we know, Cecily is besotted with her guardian Jack's estranged and wicked brother, Ernest. Part of her attraction lies precisely on the fact that Ernest represents a daring, challenging, alter ego of the usually quiet, shy and seemingly innocent Cecily. Her attraction has led her to create an imaginary romance between herself and such Ernest to the point of keeping a diary of their courtship, their engagement, and the breakup afterwards. All of this denotes that Cecily's imagination, and her fantasy world, get the best of her.

When Algernon sneaks inside Jack's country estate in secret, his aim is to meet Cecily of whom he has heard through Jack back in London. He introduces himself as Ernest immediately sparking Cecily's interest. When she comes to him, she immediately makes a mention of his reported "wickedness".

I am your cousin Cecily. You, I see from your card, are Uncle Jack's brother, my cousin Ernest, my wicked cousin Ernest.

After Algernon, still posing as Ernest, explains that he is not really that "wicked", Cecily seems disappointed. She immediately answers

If you are not, then you have certainly been deceiving us all in a very inexcusable manner. I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.

The reason behind Cecily's expression goes back to the fact that it is Ernest's wicked behavior that actually attracts her.

This is why she says, in one of many of Wilde's paradoxes, that if Ernest is lying about being wicked, then he has been lying all along, which would make him a hypocrite. This form of sarcasm is Wilde's way of mocking how "righteousness" is seen through the eyes of a society which is already hypocritical.

Since the theme of the double life drives the plot, Wilde infuses his own thoughts on how life should be lived. As a man who led a double life between from the 1880s through his final years, Wilde could not concede that life could be lived to the fullest except if all "sensations" are completely experienced. Since society makes us behave in a way that not all sensations can be experienced, Wilde argues that the only way to do it is by living a socially acceptable life, while indulging in prohibited actions behind closed doors.

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