Why does Oscar Wilde begin Act II of The Importance of Being Earnest with a conversation between Cecily and Miss Prisim? How would you characterize the two women and how do they differ from the characters we've already met?
Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest involves two romantic relationships, one between Gwendolyn and Jack and one between Algernon and Cecily. The first act of the play introduces us to four of the main characters, showing Algernon in his home environment, and Gwendolyn and Lady Bracknell also as part of their London social circle. In these scenes, we get a sense of Gwendolyn's nature by seeing her mother; one of the more entertaining bon mots in the play is:
All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.
In Gwendolyn's nascent decisiveness we see that she will grow into her mother's habit of micro-managing her family and social circle.
The introduction of Cecily in Act II is parallel to that of Gwendolyn in Act I in that it shows her in her natural surroundings. As an orphan, she does not have a living mother, but her governess serves in loco parentis.
The main difference we discover between the two women is that while Gwendolyn has been thoroughly immersed in London society, Cecily is simultaneously more naive (living in the limited social environment of the country) but better educated, as Miss Prism is actually, although in certain ways a comic spinster figure, trying to give Cecily a broad education, including German, rather than merely superficial social accomplishments.