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Jack Worthing

Jack Worthing, the plays protagonist, was discovered as an infant by the late Mr. Thomas Cardew in a handbag in the cloakroom of a railway station in London. Jack has grown p to be a seemingly responsible and respectable yo ng man, a ma!or landowner and J stice of the "eace in #ertfordshire, where he has a co ntry estate. $n #ertfordshire, where he is known by what he imagines to be his real name, Jack, he is a pillar of the comm nity. #e is g ardian to Mr. Cardews grandda ghter, Cecily, and has other d ties and people who depend on him, incl ding servants, tenants, farmers, and the local clergyman. %or years, he has also pretended to have an irresponsible yo nger brother named &rnest, whom he is always having to bail o t of some mischief. $n fact, he himself is the reprobate brother &rnest. &rnest is the name Jack goes by in London, where he really goes on these occasions. The fictional brother is Jacks alibi, his e'c se for disappearing from #ertfordshire and going off to London to escape his responsibilities and ind lge in e'actly the sort of behavior he pretends to disapprove of in his brother. More than any other character in the play, Jack Worthing represents conventional (ictorian val es) he wants others to think he adheres to s ch notions as d ty, honor, and respectability, b t he hypocritically flo ts those very notions. $ndeed, what Wilde was act ally satiri*ing thro gh Jack was the general tolerance for hypocrisy in conventional (ictorian morality. Jack ses his alter+ego &rnest to keep his honorable image intact. &rnest enables Jack to escape the bo ndaries of his real life and act as he wo ldnt dare to nder his real identity. &rnest provides a convenient e'c se and disg ise for Jack, and Jack feels no , alms abo t invoking &rnest whenever necessary. Jack wants to be seen as pright and moral, b t he doesnt care what lies he has to tell his loved ones in order to be able to misbehave. Tho gh &rnest has always been Jacks nsavory alter ego, as the play progresses Jack m st aspire to become &rnest, in name if not behavior. -ntil he seeks to marry .wendolen, Jack has sed &rnest as an escape from real life, b t .wendolens fi'ation on the name &rnest obligates Jack to embrace his deception in order to p rs e the real life he desires. Jack has always managed to get what he wants by sing &rnest as his fallback, and his lie event ally threatens to ndo him. Tho gh Jack never really gets his come ppance, he m st scramble to reconcile his two worlds in order to get what he ltimately desires and to f lly nderstand who he is.

Algernon Moncrieff
/lgernon, the plays secondary hero, is closer to the fig re of the dandy than any other character in the play. / charming, idle, decorative bachelor, /lgernon is brilliant, witty, selfish, amoral, and given to making delightf l parado'ical and epigrammatic prono ncements that either make no sense at all or to ch on something profo nd. Like Jack, /lgernon has invented a fictional character, a chronic invalid named 0 nb ry, to give him a reprieve from his real life. /lgernon is constantly being s mmoned to 0 nb rys deathbed, which conveniently draws him away from tiresome or distastef l social obligations. Like Jacks fictional brother &rnest, 0 nb ry provides /lgernon with a way of ind lging himself while also s ggesting great serio sness and sense of d ty. #owever, a salient difference e'ists between Jack and /lgernon. Jack does not admit to being a 10 nb ryist,2even after hes been called on it, while /lgernon not only acknowledges his wrongdoing b t also revels in it. /lgernons delight in his own cleverness and ingen ity has little to do with a contempt for others. 3ather, his personal philosophy p ts a higher val e on artistry and geni s than on almost anything else, and he regards living as a kind of art form and life as a work of art4something one creates oneself. /lgernon is a proponent of aestheticism and a stand+in for Wilde himself, as are all Wildes dandified characters, incl ding Lord .oring in An Ideal Husband, Lord 5arlington in Lady Windermeres Fan, Lord $llingworth in A Woman of No Importance, and Lord #enry Wootton in The Picture of Dorian ray. -nlike these other characters, however, /lgernon is completely amoral. Where Lord $llingworth and Lord #enry are downright evil, and Lord .oring and Lord 5arlington are deeply good, /lgernon has no moral convictions at all, recogni*ing no d ty other than the responsibility to live bea tif lly.

Gwendolen Fairfax
More than any other female character in the play, .wendolen s ggests the , alities of conventional (ictorian womanhood. 6he has ideas and ideals, attends lect res, and is bent on self+ improvement. 6he is also artificial and pretentio s. .wendolen is in love with Jack, whom she knows as &rnest, and she is fi'ated on this name. This preocc pation serves as a metaphor for the preocc pation of the (ictorian middle+ and pper+middle classes with the appearance of virt e and honor. .wendolen is so ca ght p in finding a h sband named &rnest, whose name, she says, 1inspires absol te confidence,2 that she cant even see that the man calling himself &rnest is fooling her with an e'tensive deception. $n this way, her own image conscio sness bl rs her ! dgment.

Tho gh more self+conscio sly intellect al than Lady 0racknell, .wendolen is c t from very m ch the same cloth as her mother. 6he is similarly strong+minded and speaks with nassailable a thority on matters of taste and morality, ! st as Lady 0racknell does. 6he is both a model and an arbiter of elegant fashion and sophistication, and nearly everything she says and does is calc lated for effect. /s Jack fears, .wendolen does indeed show signs of becoming her mother 1in abo t a h ndred and fifty years,2 b t she is likeable, as is Lady 0racknell, beca se her prono ncements are so o trageo s.

Cecily Cardew
$f .wendolen is a prod ct of London high society, Cecily is its antithesis. 6he is a child of nat re, as ingen o s and nspoiled as a pink rose, to which /lgernon compares her in /ct $$. #owever, her ingen ity is belied by her fascination with wickedness. 6he is obsessed with the name &rnest ! st as .wendolen is, b t wickedness is primarily what leads her to fall in love with 1-ncle Jacks brother,2 whose rep tation is wayward eno gh to intrig e her. Like /lgernon and Jack, she is a fantasist. 6he has invented her romance with &rnest and elaborated it with as m ch artistry and enth siasm as the men have their sp rio s obligations and secret identities. Tho gh she does not have an alter+ego as vivid or developed as 0 nb ry or &rnest, her claim that she and /lgernon7&rnest are already engaged is rooted in the fantasy world shes created aro nd &rnest. Cecily is probably the most realistically drawn character in the play, and she is the only character who does not speak in epigrams. #er charm lies in her idiosyncratic cast of mind and her imaginative capacity, , alities that derive from Wildes notion of life as a work of art. These elements of her personality make her a perfect mate for /lgernon.

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JACK: You dont think there is any chance of Gwendolen becoming like her mother in about a
hundred and fifty years, do you, Algy ! A"G#$%&%: All women become like their mothers' (hat is their tragedy' %o man does' (hats his'! JACK: )s that cle*er ! A"G#$%&%: )t is +erfectly +hrased, and -uite as true as any obser*ation in ci*ili.ed life should be'! #/+lanation (his e/change between Algernon and Jack in Act ) occurs after "ady 0racknell has swe+t indignantly out of the house in res+onse to Jacks inability to +roduce any ancestry' )n some ways it foreshadows the future, since Gwendolen really does resemble her mother in a number of ways' "ike "ady 0racknell, she is somewhat ruthless and o*erbearing, and she demonstrates similar habits of s+eech and frames of mind, including a +ro+ensity to monomania 1witness her obsession with the name #rnest!2 and a

tendency to make absurd categorical +ronouncements' )f Gwendolens *oice were turned u+ a few decibels, it might be indistinguishable from that of "ady 0racknell' Algernons re+ly to Jacks -uestion is a +erfect e/am+le of the 3ildean e+igram: a statement that briefly and elegantly turns some +iece of recei*ed or con*entional wisdom on its head' Another e/am+le is Algernons assertion that (he truth is rarely +ure and ne*er sim+le' 4odern life would be *ery tedious if it were either, and modern literature a com+lete im+ossibility,! (y+ically, the 3ildean e+igram consists of two elements: an outrageous statement followed by an e/+lanation that is at once e*en more outrageous and at the same time true' &r, as in the -uotation abo*e, it can consist of an antithesis:&n the one hand A5 on the other hand 0'! 3hen Algernon tells Jack his witticism is +erfectly +hrased! and -uite as true as any obser*ation in ci*ili.ed life should be,! he is *oicing the moral +ers+ecti*e of the 3ildean dandy, who belie*es that nothing is more im+ortant than the beauty of form and that elegance rather than accuracy or truth should dictate what +eo+le say'

A"G#$%&%: %othing will induce me to +art with 0unbury, and if you e*er get married, which
seems to me e/tremely +roblematic, you will be *ery glad to know 0unbury' A man who marries without knowing 0unbury has a *ery tedious time of it'! #/+lanation Algernon s+eaks these lines in Act ), re+lying to Jacks announcement that he +lans to kill off his imaginary brother and his suggestion that Algernon do the same with 0unbury' Jack has 6ust denied being what Algernon called a 0unburyist,!that is, someone who leads a double life or otherwise engages in an elaborate dece+tion that allows him to misbeha*e and seem *irtuous at the same time' Jack thinks that once he is married to Gwendolen he will no longer need the ruse of the irres+onsible brother because he will be ha++y, and he wont want to disa++ear' Algernon counters with the suggestion that it is the married man who needs 0unbury most of all' &n one le*el, this e/change merely continues the long7running marriage gag, which treats the whole 8ictorian notion of married bliss!with a kind of gallows humor' 9owe*er, it also initiates the +lays darker subte/t' 3hat Algernon suggests is that all husbands in 8ictorian society lead double li*es' )n 3ildes *iew, Jacks refusal to acknowledge that he is a 0unburyist! is what differentiates him from Algernon from a +urely moral +ers+ecti*e' Jacks refusal to admit what he is makes him a hy+ocrite' "ater, when Jack is forced to confess that #rnest was a fiction, and that in reality he has no brother, he makes a s+eech about the +ain in*ol*ed in being forced to s+eak the truth' 3hen, at the end, he disco*ers that he really has been both #rnest and John all along, he tells Gwendolen that it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been s+eaking nothing but the truth'! Gwendolen forgi*es him, she says, because she feels he is sure to change'! :he is +robably right' Jack hasnt been telling the truth all along, and he wasnt telling the truth when he im+lied that his in*ented brother was a ruse for getting away to see her' )n fact, Jacks desire to get away from 9ertfordshire has been moti*ated by a desire to do things that conflict with a *ery high moral tone'! Algernon and Gwendolen are likely right: before too long, Jack will feel the call of 0unbury again'

A"G#$%&%: &h, ) am not really wicked at all, cousin Cecily' You mustnt think that ) am wicked'!
C#C)"Y: )f you are not, then you ha*e certainly been decei*ing us all in a *ery ine/cusable manner' )
ho+e you ha*e not been leading a double life, +retending to be wicked and being really good all the time' (hat would be hy+ocrisy'! #/+lanation

(his e/change between Algernon and Cecily occurs in Act )) when Algernon, who is +resenting himself as Jacks brother #rnest, is shown into the garden' 9e greets Cecily, calling her his little cousin,! and she greets him as my wicked cousin #rnest'! (he moral status of Jacks fictional brother has undergone a change between Acts ) and ))' At Algernons flat in 9alf 4oon :treet, #rnest! was merely +rofligate! 1Algernons word2' (o use Jacks terminology, he got into scra+es,! which is to say 6ams!or mischief' ;recisely what Jack considers a scra+e! isnt made clear in Act )' (hey are, howe*er, something Algernon is fond of' 3hen Jack warns him that 0unbury may get him into a serious scra+e some day,! Algernon re+lies, ) lo*e scra+es' (hey are the only things that are ne*er serious'! &nce the action mo*es to the garden of the 4anor 9ouse, where 4iss ;risms moral *iew+oint seems to hold sway, Jacks brother graduates to unfortunate,! bad,! and downright wicked'! Cecily yearns to meet a really wicked! +erson, she says' (he moment before Algernon enters, she that shes terrified he will look 6ust like e*eryone else'! (his o+en interest in the idea of immorality is what takes Cecily out of the realm of 8ictorian hy+ocrisy and makes her a suitable lo*e interest for Algernon' 9er notion that if Jacks brother is not really wicked he has been decei*ing us all in a *ery ine/cusable manner!turns the +lot of the +lay on its head' :he goes on to define hy+ocrisy as +retending to be wicked and being really good all the time'!)t isnt, of course' )t is the o++osite of hy+ocrisy' )n fact, it is the creed of the 3ildean dandy7hero'

"A<Y 0$ACK%#"": ) do not a++ro*e of anything that tam+ers with natural ignorance' )gnorance is like
a delicate e/otic fruit5 touch it and the bloom is gone' (he whole theory of modern education is radically unsound' =ortunately in #ngland, at any rate, education +roduces no effect whatsoe*er' )f it did, it would +ro*e a serious danger to the u++er classes, and +robably lead to acts of *iolence in Gros*enor :-uare'! #/+lanation for >uotation ? @@ "ady 0racknell says these lines in the scene in Act ) in which she inter*iews Jack to determine his eligibility as a suitor for Gwendolen' :he has 6ust told him she belie*es that a man who wants to marry should know either e*erything or nothing, and Jack, sensing a tra+, has said he knows nothing' "ady 0racknell greets the news with com+lacency and says only, ) am +leased to hear it'! 3ilde is on one le*el sending u+ the boorish ignorance and *acuity of the 0ritish leisured classes, -ualities he had certainly encountered in the +erson of "ord Alfred <ouglass *oluble and undereducated father, whose +ro*ocati*e, miss+elled note would ultimately lead to 3ildes downfall' &n another le*el, 3ilde is making a serious social and +olitical +oint' A good deal of truth e/ists in what "ady 0racknell says' #ducation, if it were effecti*e in #ngland, +robably would threaten the established order' "ady 0racknell is im+lying that if the +oor and the downtrodden in #ngland knew anything about anything they would o*erthrow the ruling class' (he s+eech e/em+lifies one of the ways in which 3ildes comedy works' (he characters in The Importance of Being Earnest are not realistic or true to life' (hey dont dis+lay consistency of tem+erament or *iew+oint, e*en within a gi*en scene or s+eech' (heyre literary constructs, artificial creations whose +ur+ose is to gi*e *oice to a +articular utterance at a +articular moment' 3ilde uses "ady 0racknell to embody the mind7boggling stu+idity of the 0ritish aristocracy, while at the same time, he allows her to *oice some of the most trenchant obser*ations in the +lay'