What is the function/significance of Algernon in The Importance of Being Ernest?

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

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In the play The Importance of Being Earnest , by Oscar Wilde, the character of Algernon Moncrieff is the reflection of Jack Worthing, only with a more marked tendency for mischievous behavior.

Algernon is Wilde's conduit to express his own views on morality. In a time and place like Victorian England, Wilde himself had to put up with a puritanical and prudish society. Algernon is the picture of lax morality: It is not that he is bad, but that he does not intend to be good.

In his relations with people, he spreads he gospel of the sybarite: Enjoy the day, seize the moment, eat all you can, enjoy yourself, forget what is serious and meaningful-all that is boring.

In the way he lives life, his purpose is to be the catalyst of change in the lives of everybody else. He loves escaping from his aunt, so she has to adapt to Algernon's schedule. He feels like falling in love, so he invites himself to Jack's estate in the country and courts Cecily. He feels like eating, so he invites himself to dinner with Jack. He wants to Bunbury, so he simply takes off and disappears.

However, on a more general level, he simply is Algernon. He is the one who is meant to break with convention of the time, with taboo, and with social expectation. He represents liberty in the Victorian way of life. His character basically represents Wilde: The dandy who lives above his means, finds pleasure in good food and drink, and cares very little for what society feels for him. Algernon is definitely the black sheep of an overly-moralistic society.

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