Illustration of Jack Worthing in a top hat and formal attire, and a concerned expression on his face

The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde

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What is Jack/Earnest's view on marriage in The Importance of Being Earnest?

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Oscar Wilde had a gift for writing colorful characters. His characters are witty and clever; they trick each other with lies and bribes, and they always seem to trip over their own egos. Most importantly, they have bold opinions, like each character's opinion of marriage in The Importance of Being Earnest. Most of the main cast sees marriage as a novelty or tool, but Jack sees marriage as a happy commitment between lovers.

In the first act, Jack makes his objective for the play clear in a single line:

I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her.

Jack proceeds to comment that he will stop living his double life if Gwendolen marries him, and he scolds Algernon for scoffing at his romance.

Later in the act, Jack proposes to Gwendolen, and at her consent tells her, "My own one, I have never loved any one in the world but you." This certainly lacks the perfunctory tone Algernon takes to marriage, and it is far more intimate than the way Lady Bracknell handles the topic. Jack later tells Lady Bracknell, "I need hardly say I would do anything in the world to ensure Gwendolen’s happiness."

In Oscar Wilde's plays, a character's dialogue cannot always be taken at face value, since characters frequently lie to outwit their scene partners; however, as a general rule of theatre, what a character says in an aside or soliloquy is always true to how he feels. When a character is talking to himself, he has no reason to lie. To that end, here is a line Jack says to himself after seeing Gwendolen off:

There’s a sensible, intellectual girl! the only girl I ever cared for in my life.

This line is convincing evidence that Jack wants to marry Gwendolen because he loves her, and to him, that's what marriage is for.

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When Algernon asks Jack why he has come to town, Jack says,

Oh, pleasure, pleasure! What else should bring one anywhere? [....] I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her.

Algernon responds, wittily, that he thought Jack had said pleasure brought him to town, not business, strongly suggesting that a proposal of marriage is a matter of business and not pleasure. He calls love romantic but he sees nothing romantic about actually, definitely, proposing to someone. Jack responds, in a somewhat shocked tone,

How utterly unromantic you are!

Given his claim that pleasure brought him to town because he is planning to propose marriage to Gwendolen and that such a proposal does qualify as romantic, it seems that Jack has a fairly traditional view of marriage (unlike Algernon's much less typical view): he sees it as something to be desired, the next step to take when one is in love with another person.

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Jack is quite romantic and does believe in love and commitment. He shows his ability for commitment by taking care of Cecily in the country and becoming her guardian. He also seems to have a settled head with finances (as Jack, not as Earnest) and truly seems to be bedazzled by Gwendolyn. He was extremely upset at Gwen's obsession with the name Earnest, and he even said "I have to get Christened at once!"

He even went through the troubles of having to answer Lady Bracknell, and through the humiliation of being called a "parcel" by her. In all, Jack does have an inclination to make it in a marriage. But you never know, since he also has a "bunburyist" side just like Algy.

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