The Importance Of The Play Being Ernest English Literature Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Wilde characterized Jack Worthing, the main protagonist in this play, as an uptight and serious person who wouldn't mock or tarnish the nature of civility or the niceties of Victorian high society, thus creating a façade typical of a Victorian gentleman. This initial characterization of Jack seems to be more suitable in a drama or tragedy, but Wilde gives to Jack the idiosyncrasy of being found in a handbag by happenstance in the cloakroom at Victoria Station, thus not knowing who or what the societal standings of his actual parents. Wilde did this to display the Victorian canon emphasizing normalcy as well as to ridicule the way in which the Victorian elite frowned upon that which, "seems to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life… (Lady Bracknell, Act I, pg. 134)." Despite the predicament that Wilde leaves Jack in, Wilde uses this circumstance of Jack's abandonment at the Station to symbolize Jack's potentially fatal status throughout the play, as well as to reiterate the opposite of Wilde's previous intent; the latent upward mobility of his social class. As would be expected however, Lady Bracknell looks upon Jack's predicament with ill grace and advises Jack to learn from whom he was borne, lest he never get the chance to become a potential suitor for Gwendolen. Wilde uses everything in the play to his advantage; the handbag is used to represent the social ambiguity of Jack's social status, for this bag possessed all the trademarks of normalcy, and even is described in all its wrinkly and disheveled glory:

"…here is the injury it received through the upsetting of a Gower Street omnibus… Here is the stain on the lining caused by the explosion of a temperance beverage… And here, on the lock, are my initials… (Ms. Prism, Act III, pg 187)"

This trite bag is now revealed to the audience as a container of a child of aristocratic birth and that this common handbag/baby container had been discovered in a cloakroom is no coincidence either, for cloaks have the potential to be worn when one is attempting to conceal their identity or form from another person. Consequently, Wilde uses the location of the Victoria Station to symbolize the divide that separates the lower and middle classes from the upper class and the aristocracy. The reason that Wilde had Jack found in the cloakroom of the Brighton Line was because, historically, the western route of Victoria Station led to the wealthier parts of London and this included the Brighton Line, rather than the route that led to the east, to places like Chatham and Dover, which historically were known for their poverty. Wilde uses this intersection as a transparent attempt to make the audience ask the unmistakable question about the social standing of Jack, who had until recently acted under the sobriquet of Ernest Worthing, a Victorian elite, while in London so that he could woo the love of his life, the fair Gwendolen Fairfax. The question about the legitimacy of his high class birth however, can be answered in only one way; Jack had obviously come from an aristocratic name for he was found in the cloakroom of the Brighton Line at the Victoria Station, which Wilde uses to foreshadow to the audience the regality of Jack's birth and the inevitability of Jack's engagement to Gwendolen.

Throughout the entirety of the play, Wilde is continuously having his characters telling half-truths and or contradictions to what they had previously said, so that anything that was said effectively was a lie. In fact, the vast majority of the play is a pretense upon an untruth inside of a falsehood. These lies, for the most part, were created by Wilde's character so that they could bypass social and familial responsibilities, and instead, engage in more enjoyable activities. From the elaborate fabrications that Wilde is creating, one can clearly see Wilde's intent; that honesty wasn't held in very high regard and that for many of the characters, "it is very painful… to be forced to speak the truth (Jack, Act II, pg. 169)." The viewers can see, however, that it is hard for Wilde's characters to keep the lies they have been telling afloat. Wilde continuously is weaving more and more lies and lies within lies that it becomes ever more difficult for his character use these lies to escape from the shackles of the duties of Victorian high society and, eventually from their previous lies. The most obvious and greatest example of the duplicity practiced by Wilde's characters was the invented people created by Jack and Algernon, Jack's brother Ernest and Algernon's elderly, invalid friend Bunbury. In the case of Jack, he is being doubly deceitful, for his character Ernest is anything but earnest, not to mention that Ernest doesn't even really exist. Both of these fake people allow Jack and Algernon to happily live their lies; they to seem uphold high moral standards, valued by the pompous and vain Victorian elite, while they gallivant around without suffering any repercussions. Even when Jack and Algernon after their lies have been revealed, there is no real sense of remorse from either Jack or Algernon and as they never had to suffer any real punishment, the viewer is forced to the realization that these people could not care less whether they had lied at all. That they can both throw aside their alter egos and imaginary friends without second thoughts, displays what Victorian society really valued; a disregard for sincerity, civic duty, or compassion for the under-privileged, for neither Lady Bracknell nor Algernon displayed any sort of regret with Bunbury's "death."

The true intent of Wilde's play is mainly to expose the hypocrisy and superficiality that was prevalent throughout the Victorian Era. As was seen through the manner in which Lady Bracknell treated Jack in the beginning of the play, it is plain to the audience that she only wanted stylishness, wealth, and an important aristocratic name from the fiancé of her darling Gwendolen. As the play proceeds it becomes ever plainer to the audience just how shallow everyone's desires are. Wilde's tone never becomes heavy or dark, but rather the viewer finds the ridiculousness and triviality of the characters merely amusing.