The Importance of Being Ernest
Why do you think these characters live double lives? Does the choice to be a Bunburyist say more about the person who makes the choice or the pressures exerted by the society in which that person lives? Does the answer to the last question depend on the circumstances?
The characters in Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Ernest live double lives in a bid to escape reality. Algernon invents an imaginary friend called Bunbury while Jack assumes the persona of Ernest, a brother he makes up in his mind. The play suggests that the characters adopt double lives to escape social responsibility and accountability. For example, Algernon uses Bunbury’s illness as an excuse to visit him rather than engage in social gatherings. Jack uses the identity of Ernest to live a wicked life while retaining his moral reputation as Jack.The choice to live a double life reflects both on the expectations of society on an individual and the character of the person. Victorian age society imposed various moral rules on people due to its formality and strictness. Therefore, Jack developed Ernest with the intention of engaging in immoral behavior and getting away with it.
The choice to practise Bunbury also reflects on the character of an individual. For example, Algernon’s invention of Bunbury reflects his antisocial behaviour and his desire to stay away from social gatherings. At the end of the play, Jack says, “I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Ernest (Wilde, 42).” The phrase suggests that individuals that live double lives are Ernest because they admit to being liars. Why would Lady Bracknell compare Jack’s lack of knowledge about who his parents were to a movement that overthrew a monarchy (King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were among those who died by the guillotine) and destroyed thousands of lives?Jack fails to prove his aristocratic roots because he lacks knowledge of his parents. However, he possesses riches and wealth comparable to wealthy individuals in the society with noble roots. Lady Bracknell interprets this as a commoner’s rise to power and riches and views Jack as a threat to society’s standard structure.
What do you think Gwendolen and Cecily’s fixation with the name “Ernest” has to do with class? Why do you think social class was so important (more important than money, in fact)?
Gwendolen and Cecily wanted to marry a man with the name Ernest because of the supposed high standing associated with the name. Social class was more important than money in Victorian society because it earned people respect and reputation. While money allowed families to live a wealthy life, it did not earn societal recognition without class.
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Ernest. New York: Dover, 1990. …