Describe Algernon's personality under the perspective of his needs and fears in The Importance of Being Earnest.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The play The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, introduces us to the character of Algernon Moncrief.  "Algy"is a London dandy who lives above his means, has no concern for morality, eats excessively and, in his own words, "loves to have his relatives abused" because he cannot stand being responsible for his family, nor for himself. 

However, the traits that we see in Algernon are indicative of a series of habits that are a result of wants and needs that, in Algernon, are interminable. He is a man who is larger than life and does everything in excess. Therefore, what is it that Algernon wants so badly that he can never satisfy?

Among his needs, we find that Algernon is a creature of freedom: Financial, metabolic, and intellectual freedom are his optimum needs. He loves to travel, spend money, eat out, speak his mind, and play his piano as he pleases. He cares nothing about marriage or commitment, and cares even less about family. Therefore, if we were to assign Algernon a list of needs we would see that he needs discipline, consequences, and limitations in order for him not to sink himself.

His wants are consistently fulfilled, but never satisfied. He mainly seems to need entertainment, food, and fashion ever-present in his life. From the beginning of the story we see how he is aware of his and other people's attire. He gulps down food prepared for his aunt and cousin, and he has a consistent want of entertainment. One also wonders, is he trying to fill a void? Is Algernon's passion for entertainment and pleasure a reaction to his fears?

If one were to assume Algy is scared of something we could guess that, first, he fears marriage (for the commitment, as he told Lane that it was a demoralizing situation); He also fears aging (since he mentions age a lot in the play), and one could image poverty, as he specifically likes to spend money in big amounts. Algernon likes money because he provides a source of entertainment, fun, and liberation- which is what he mainly gives.

As far as his wishes, one can see that Algy probably wished he could see himself free, rich, and powerful to be able to rid himself of the bothers of his family, especially his aunt.

This being said, Algernon is a man whose passions, interests, and ideas require a lot of money and freedom to bring them to life. Therefore, he definitely represents the ultimate of Oscar Wilde's most famous dandies of all his works!

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The Importance of Being Earnest

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