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 do Cecily and Gwendolen from The Importance of Being Earnest compare and contrast?

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Gwendolen and Cecily seem to think they are vastly different, and they do have a few superficial differences. Mostly, the women are from different environment: Gwendolen lives in London, while Cecily has been raised in the country. The circumstances of their upbringings and educations are different (Gwendolen says her mother taught her to be "short-sighted," and Cecily has Miss Prism as a governess). Gwendolen sees herself as more sophisticated than Cecily, and she is certainly more experienced socially.

Despite these superficial differences, the women are actually very similar, and Wilde emphasizes this through repeating scenes in which the women act in basically the same manner, sometimes even saying the same lines. Both women claim to want to marry a man named Ernest, and this desire leads them to immediately "fall in love" with Jack and Algy, who both pretend to be named Ernest. When the women first meet, they become jealous of one another because they think they are engaged to the same man. Both women produce journals that they attempt to use as proof of their claim on the fictitious Ernest. When the men arrive and are revealed to be Jack and Algernon, the women react in the same way and become instant friends. At the end of the play, the two couples embrace and repeat the same lines as they all agree to marry and live happily ever after.

Wilde's use of repeated scenes emphasizes the similarities between the two women despite some surface-level differences.

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Cecily and Gwendolen are presented as character foils in this satirical play by Oscar Wilde. Both are supposedly engaged to a man named Ernest, a girlhood dream of them both, and both are victims of two men's deception.

However, the two women are also quite different. Cecily is a younger woman, still girlish in many ways, who lives a rather isolated life. As a result, she has created a vast romantic and imaginative world for herself in which she has been wooed through a series of love letters, received a proposal, accepted a ring, broken off the engagement, and then reconciled with her man. Of course, all of this has happened in her own mind and diary, without Algernon's knowledge. Cecily does not feel the need to hide this fact from him, for when he protests that he has not written any letters, she announces, "You hardly need to remind me of that, Ernest. I remember only too well that I was forced to write my letters for you."

In contrast, Gwendolen has been raised in a more social environment under the tutelage of her pretentious mother. Polite society does not intimidate her, and she goes more directly for what she wants. She knows the societal expectations and navigates them well. She has known Jack for quite some time and is obvious about her feelings for him. She also is thrilled to be marrying a man named Ernest; as the reader knows, both men are pretending their names are Ernest. Despite her mother's disapproval, she is able to reunite herself with her man in the country.

After a rather humorous moment when both girls believe they are engaged to the same man named Ernest, Gwendolen and Cecily bond through their strength to stand against the men who have lied to them—at least for a few seconds. In true comedic style, the two couples are happy in the end.

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In Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest, how are Gwendolyn and Cecily alike/different?

Gwendolyn and Cecily are alike in Oscar Wilde's play, The Importance of Being Earnest, in that both are romantic female leads. In many ways they appear on the surface to be similar to the stock character of the young girl, or "puella," in Roman comedy, who functions primarily as a love interest for the young man (the "puer"). They are both members of the upper or upper middle classes, sufficiently well off that they do not need to work. Both, over the course of the play, fall in love, and end up accepting proposals of marriage from the men they love. They are both more intelligent and more interesting than they might appear on the surface. Their conversation shows evidence of wide reading and astute wit.

In many ways, Gwendolyn appears a younger version of her mother Lady Bracknell (one of the great comic characters of the English stage). She has much of her mother's bossiness and concern with social propriety and standing. Both Gwendolyn and her mother though, despite being intelligent and having many qualities that might make them effective businesswomen or political leaders, are constrained by the social standards of their period to roles where their energy and intelligence has no outlet beyond managing the affairs of their social circle.

Cecily appears somewhat less concerned with appearances and perhaps better educated, as evidenced by the references to German. She also is less given to artifice than Gwendolyn, and although her diary is mainly introduced for comic effect, we get a sense that she is more imaginative and less pragmatic than Gwendolyn.

In Oscar Wilde's role as an editor of The Lady’s World he actually wanted to include more of substance and less of fashion in the magazine, and in his portraits of these two young women, we get a sense that his advocacy of equality for women shows through in the portrait of how the limited scope for action of women in their social position leads to a diminution of their lives. 

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In Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest, how are Gwendolyn and Cecily alike/different?

Gwendolen and Cecily are alike in that they are well loved young women who are pampered with wealth, though Gwendolen is the daughter in a wealthy family and Cecily is impoverished in her own right but the charge of a benevolent, generous and wealthy guardian. Both young women admire fashion and uphold the value of appearance, though Gwendolen, being from the city, is more fashionable, while Cecily is more caught up in Romantic notions, actions and daydreams.

Both girls are affectionate and deeply fond, irrationally fond, of the name of Earnest, insisting that they will only love a man named Earnest because of the heart-felt sincerity it implies. Both Gwendolen and Cecily exhibit independence and strength of will and initiative in matters of the heart. The former rebels slightly against her mother in accepting an engagement and the latter concocts Romantic fantasies and rebels slightly against her governess and her guardian in matters of the heart.

Cecily is also a bit rebellious toward her governess in other matters as well and doesn't hesitate to connive to arrange things to her own advantage. Gwendolen shares this general touch of rebellion as she also will connive and manipulate circumstances for her own advantage. Although both share a sincere respect for parents, in Gwendolen's case, and guardian, in Cecily's case. They differ significantly in that while Gwendolen falls in love after adequate acquaintance with the man, although with an irrational attachment to a name, Cecily falls in love based on hearsay, though with an irrational attachment to the same name.

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In Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest, how are Gwendolyn and Cecily alike/different?


Cecily is upper-middle class while Gwendolyn is upper class

Cecily is a country girl, Gwen is a city person

Cecily is younger, less sophisticated, but just as snobby as Gwendolyn.

Cecily is under the guardianship of Jack while Gwen lives with her parents (her mother is Lady Bracknell)

It appears, however, that Cecily is indeed richer than Gwendolyn, since her dowry is very high, and Lady Bracknell considers that a plus when accepting her to marry Algernon.


They both have the fixation with the name "Earnest"

Both need permission to marry who they want.

They are both not as angelic as they first appear- both have ways to manipulate a conversation.

They are jealous and catty (to each other, at first)

You can almost safely say that they represent the image that Oscar Wilde often gave most (but not all) of his female characters: That of an ornamental, cute, annoying, pervasive, and airheaded person.


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