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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How are Jack and Algernon similar and different in The Importance of Being Earnest?

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Jack and Algernon from The Importance of Being Earnest are both hedonists leading double lives, however, they differ in their views on marriage and financial stability. Jack, the more serious and responsible of the two, seeks marriage, while Algernon, flippant and witty, does not. Both allow their love interests to dominate their relationships. They also differ financially; Jack is better off but lacks a family name, whereas Algernon has a family name but struggles with debts.

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Although they do not discover the relationship until the end of the play, Jack is Algernon's older brother. The relationship between the two much aligns with this. Jack is, at least ostensibly, more serious and responsible, though he has developed the persona of Ernest to allow himself an outlet for...

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his wilder side. Even though Algernon is only acquainted with this persona (since Jack is Ernest in town and Jack in the country, and he invariably sees Algernon in town), Jack is still the more serious of the two, while Algernon is flippant and witty:

Algernon: You don’t seem to realise, that in married life three is company and two is none.

Jack: [Sententiously.] That, my dear young friend, is the theory that the corrupt French Drama has been propounding for the last fifty years.

Algernon: Yes; and that the happy English home has proved in half the time.

The great similarity between the two, however, becomes clear in their pursuit of Gwendolen and Cecily. They both accept exactly the same languid, passive role, in each case allowing the women they love to take charge of the relationship (which, in Algernon's case, began even before he became aware of Cecily's existence) and even allowing her to choose their names. Although Jack is not quite as witty as Algernon, it is a feature of Oscar Wilde's plays, as the critic Arthur Bingham Walkley observed, that all the characters talk like Oscar Wilde. Both Jack and Algernon serve as admirable spokesmen for the subversive wit of their author.

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Similarities:

  • Algernon and Jack are hedonists. They love seeking pleasure, and they self-indulge with food and drink. They are also amoral and self-serving. It is no coincidence that they get along so well.
  • Both men tend to be over-eaters, which is part of their hedonism. Notice that they eat the food that was prepared for Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell at the start of the play, and then they partake from the cake, bread, and butter that Gwendolen and Cecily were consuming at tea, prior to their epic, blowout argument.
  • Clearly, they are also deceivers who lead double lives. Algernon calls his wanderings "Bunburying." His scheme is to tell people that he will visit a made-up "ill" friend named Bunbury. He does this in order to escape from the city and go to the country to do whatever he wants.
  • Similarly, Jack Worthing introduces himself as "Ernest" when he is in the city having fun and seeking pleasure. When he is back in the country, taking care of his niece and having to do serious things, he goes by his actual name, Jack.

Differences:

  • While Algernon and Jack have an overall shallow view of all things, the key difference is how they view marriage. Jack wants to marry; Algernon does not believe in the concept.

ALGERNON: [....] if you ever get married, which seems to me extremely problematic, you will be very glad to know Bunbury. A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it.

Jack: That is nonsense. If I marry a charming girl like Gwendolen, and she is the only girl I ever saw in my life that I would marry, I certainly won't want to know Bunbury.

Algernon: Then your wife will. [...]

  • Jack is very much into Gwendolen,and he wants to make everything possible to propose and marry her.
  • Another difference is that Algernon has a family name and "class," thanks to his aunt, Lady Bracknell, but he clearly lives among his means and does not pay his debts. In turn, Jack (Ernest) lacks a family name, or any sort of class distinction, but is obviously better off financially than Algernon.
  • In all, Jack is slightly more mature than Algernon when it comes to love and courtship. He is also better off financially and, lacking the family name that is so important for Victorians, he works hard to get Gwendolen. Algernon is more apprehensive about love and courtship, does not pay his debts, and seems to be perhaps more hedonistic than Jack.
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Jack and Algernon are similar in that they are both liars. They have each created a fictitious individual who is meant to help them escape social obligations. When Jack gets tired of being the upstanding guardian to an impressionable young woman, his ward Cecily, he makes up some story about his dissolute "younger brother," Ernest. He talks a great deal about the high moral tone he must adopt in his role as guardian, and yet he hypocritically lies about a brother so that he can go into town and act badly. When Algernon cannot stand being with his overbearing Aunt Augusta and attending the various social functions upon which she insists, he claims that he must, instead, visit his ailing, invalid friend, Bunbury. In other words, both men chafe against their social and familial obligations, and they deal with their frustrations by lying to escape such responsibilities.

One might say that Algernon is just a bit more clever than Jack. Algernon masterminds a visit to Jack's country home so that he can meet and woo Cecily—a scheme which is quite successful. Jack, however, has more actual money than Algernon. Though Algernon is a gentleman, we learn that he really has little by way of "ready money," as his butler puts it, and Jack—a foundling—ironically has quite a bit more cash than the bred gentleman, Algernon.

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Jack and Algernon are similar in that they are both determined and committed to please the women they love. For instance, they are both willing and even make plans with the Reverend to change their names to Ernest so they can be accepted by the women they love.

They are both escapists, as seen when they create fictitious characters in order to avoid facing tough circumstances. Algernon invents Bunbury, a fictitious friend, so he can always have a reason to escape his aunt, Augusta. On the other hand, Jack invents a fictitious brother named Ernest, to facilitate his escape from Cecily and her governess.

The difference between the two emanates from their different upbringing. Jack was raised by a benefactor who found him abandoned at the station while Algernon was raised by his aristocratic family.

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What are similarities between Jack and Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest?

Jack and Algernon are similar in that neither seems to take morality very seriously. To be more specific, high Victorian moral standards haven't caused them to try to be better people; instead, it prompts each of them to lie. Jack invents a fake brother, Ernest, who is a person of low morals: he drinks, gambles, and fails to pay his bills. When Jack goes to London, he is Ernest, and—in this way—he can do all the socially unacceptable things he wants to do without tainting his own reputation. When Jack is in the country, he is himself, feigning disgust at his brother's continued dissolute life.

Similarly, Algernon invents a Mr. Bunbury. Bunbury is his poor, invalid friend who gets him out of uncomfortable social occasions, such as dinners at his Aunt Augusta's house, by having relapses of sickness at ideal moments. Such relapses require Algernon to skip other obligations and go to be with Bunbury in his final hours. In this way, Algernon can do whatever he wants, and it looks like he's just a really caring friend.

Both Jack and Algernon would rather tell lies in order to maintain the appearance of good morals rather than actually adopt good morals.

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Compare the characters of Jack and Algernon in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedy of manners that critiques the members of the Victorian upper class of the period—namely those members of society who had little to do with their time besides seek entertainment and social experiences. Jack and Algernon are two such men, having found themselves in families where money appears to be no question, and time is divided either between city or country diversions. Both men, despite possessing financial freedom, seek to escape the social expectations of strict propriety and live on their own terms. These restrictions of the day are relieved by each developing a double life: Jack becomes Earnest in the city, adopting an entirely new name and disposition, and Algernon becomes a less self-centered, caring friend to his dearest “invalid Bunbury.” When Algernon discovers Jack’s deception, he adopts it as his own, leading to the humorous confusion between Gwendolen and Cecily, who both believe they are connected to the same serious, typically Victorian gentlemen. In a way, Wilde presents Jack and Algernon as two versions of the same character, as both play the part of the dandy at one point or another; and as they are inevitably revealed to be brothers, it all makes perfect sense in the end.

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Compare the characters of Jack and Algernon in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

Both Jack and Algernon seem to chafe under the Victorian restrictions that demand upright morality and adherence to social codes. Jack creates an escape for himself by inventing an immoral and ill-behaved younger brother called Ernest, for whom he must constantly go to the city to bail out of scrapes. When he arrives in the city, however, he pretends to be Ernest so that he can act as badly as he wants without tarnishing Jack's upstanding reputation. Algernon has created an invalid friend, named Bunbury, who lives in the country. Using Bunbury as an excuse, Algernon is able to avoid unpleasant social obligations and is free to disappear from polite society to "visit" his friend. Both men are, thus, unhappy with the demands placed on them by society and have found creative ways to circumvent those expectations. The characters are rather more similar than they are different, and so it comes, perhaps, as less of a surprise when we learn that they are, in fact, brothers.

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Compare the characters of Jack and Algernon in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

Jack (Earnest) Worthing is a man approximately in his late 20's or early 30's, presumably an orphan, and the guardian of a niece which is related to the man who adopted him after finding him inside a handbag at Victoria Station.

As it was, his protector was a rich man, and Jack enjoys a home in the country (where his name is Jack) and a place in the city, where he goes to entertain himself under the name "Earnest".  His character is quite favorable for marriage based on on his income, but his lack of family history makes it a burden for him to marry his lady love, Gwendolyn.

While Jack seems to be the symbol of decorum, Algernon Moncrief is the epitome of the Victorian Dandy.

Algernon is younger than Earnest. He is an aristocrat living way above his means in London. He is characterized by always being hungry, or eating. He does not have any cares for marriage, family, respectability nor responsibilities. He owes money to several debt collectors, and he is apparently more worried about being fashionable, acquainted and fed than stable. He depends on Earnest for his meals at Willi's and to reach his love interest, Cecily- Jack's niece.

In terms of similarities, you can conclude that Earnest (the character Jack pretends to be when he is in the city) is a mirror image of Algernon. However, Jack himself has also similar traits.

Both Algernon and Jack lead double lives: Algernon escapes to the country to visit a fake invalid friends he named "Bunbury" while Jack escapes to the city under the name of Earnest.

They both share a fascination with hunger and danger- When Jack is Earnest in the city, he too runs humongous bills at restaurants and gets in trouble with creditors. Also, like Algernon, he shares a love for the ladies. In the end we find out that they are actually brothers, and that their father's Christian name was Earnest after all-making them both "dully" Earnests

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How are Jack and Algernon different in The Importance of Being Earnest?

Algernon Moncrieff lives in the city and is a social dandy with luxuriant tastes and leisurely manners. He is also not very fond of social occasions with family and boring guests. Pampered and overly indulgent of his every whim, Algernon has invented a friend called Bunbury who lives in the country. Mr. Bunbury is conveniently chronically ill and Algernon is a conveniently dedicated, loyal friend. Therefore, at Bunbury's every shift of ill health, Algernon drops everything--especially dinners with his aunt, Lady Augusta Bracknell, and cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax (and, yes, Lady Bracknell is Gwendolen Fairfax's mother)--and runs to Bunbury's side to nurse him through his illness. As a result, Algernon goes "Bunburying" at a whim and loves his escapes from the city to the country.

On the other hand, Jack, properly called John Worthing, has a house in the country where he is the guardian of his benefactor's granddaughter, Cecily Cardew. Jack was a foundling--he was found in a handbag in a cloakroom at the railway station, London's Victoria Station, to be precise. No one knew his parentage and since it was Thomas Cardew who discovered the baby in the handbag that was Jack, Cardew raised him as his guardian. Jack dislikes living in the country and whenever he can, he escapes the country to go to the city courtesy of his imaginary brother Earnest who is a rascal and a ne'er-do-well who is constantly getting into trouble and requiring rescuing.

While Algernon and Jack, unbeknownst to themselves, have similar made-up escapes from tedium, their escapes are in reverse order. And while Algernon is careless in the city, he pretends to be serious and in earnest in the country; so when he assumes the identity of Jack's imaginary brother Earnest, the name is strangely suited to him. Jack similarly is above reproach in the country and has to escape to be a rascal and social dandy (like Algernon) named Earnest in the city. Their routes are, as was said, opposite although both behave in the country and misbehave in the city.

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In The Importance of Being Earnest, how are Algernon and Jack different from each other?

Although there are definite similarities between Jack and Algernon (Algy), including that both are "Bunburyists" and both pretend to be Earnest Worthing, Jack and Algy are quite different. While Algy enjoys talking nonsense and has no obvious redeeming qualities, Jack has a more serious side. Jack has come to town to propose to Gwendolyn, and he thinks getting engaged is romantic, but Algy doesn't "see anything romantic in proposing." Jack has responsibility for his ward, Cecily, and therefore finds that he must "adopt a high moral tone on all subjects." Algy has no responsibilities and therefore doesn't feel the need to even pretend to be virtuous. Although both Algy and Jack become engaged to their sweethearts in the play, Jack's feelings for Gwendolyn are undoubtedly deeper and more sincere than Algy's, since Jack has been pursuing Gwendolyn for some time while Algy has only just met Cecily. Both men are independently wealthy through no effort of their own. However, since Algy was born into an aristocratic family, he seems to take his wealth for granted. Jack, a foundling, seems to express sincere gratitude for the upbringing and inheritance he received from his benefactor. Jack seems to display a sincere desire, at least initially, to protect Cecily from the corrupting influence of Algy, which is why he won't give Algy his address in the country. Algy seeks out the young ward of his friend with the express intention of corrupting her by wooing her under a false identity. So although Jack and Algy are alike, and indeed turn out to be brothers, Jack displays more seriousness and sincerity than Algy does.

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