Table of contents
- What do we make of Gwendolen’s obsession with marrying a man named Ernest? Why would Wilde give his characters such strange ideals?
- What do you think Algernon means when he says, “the very essence of romance is uncertainty?” Is he being ironic? In what ways does the action of the play support this statement?
- Reflect on Jack’s relationship with Algernon; they are best friends, and yet Algernon did not even know Jack’s real name! Moreover, neither seems all that troubled by this fact. Should they be? Are you?
- Based on Lady Bracknell’s conversation with Jack, what sort of person do you think she is?
- Lord Bracknell, Lady Bracknell’s husband, is often mentioned but never appears in the play. What kind of man do you think he is? What sort of relationship do you think he has with Lady Bracknell?
Jack creates an alternate identity in order to take a break from sides of his life that become straining. To further explain, when he is bored he leaves the country and goes to the city to help his pretend brother who he has named Ernest, this is the man Gwendolyn thinks she is marrying. Society is so structured and pulls on Jack's life, additionally, it is impossible for the middle class to rise so his only choice to achieve some form of a higher being is to fake an identity that has a respectable name and associates himself with high-class groups. After Jack confesses his real name is Jack and not Ernest Algy refutes this by exclaiming, “You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most earnest-looking person I ever saw in my life”. When Algernon Moncrief is told that he has known a close friend by the wrong name for many years he argues that Ernest is much more fitting than Jack as it fits his persona. Algernon even goes further and states that he will keep Jack’s cigarette as proof that his name really is Ernest, as it is engraved with Ernest and Jack has claimed it. Wilde emphasizes the irony of the societal normalities within this era heavily in this scene. High-class individuals would rather believe in an embellished, aesthetically pleasing reality than one which is not exciting, even if it is untrue.
What do we make of Gwendolen’s obsession with marrying a man named Ernest? Why would Wilde give his characters such strange ideals?
Gwendolen Fairfax is obsessed with conforming to the idealistic morals of society, in that she desires all things high-class. The name Ernest sounds elegant and proper, and most prominently high class, while Jack is seen as an improper name and does not sound as though wealth accompanies it. Continuously other characters, (Algernon and then Gwendolen) deny the truth when it is hinted upon. As Jack proposes to Gwendolen, she is under the impression his name is Ernest, when Jack hints at his real name saying, “Jack, for instance, a charming name” she replies with, “I have known several Jacks, and they all, without exception, were more than usually plain. Besides, Jack is a notorious domesticity for John! And I pity any woman who is married to a man called John. She would probably never be allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment’s solitude. The only really safe name is Ernest”. Wilde gives each character strange ideals, such as being interested in a man purely for his name in order to emphasize the lunacy that accompanies Victorian Era marital values.
What do you think Algernon means when he says, “the very essence of romance is uncertainty?” Is he being ironic? In what ways does the action of the play support this statement?
Wilde alludes to his disapproval of Victorian ideals of marriage when saying uncertainty in marriage is enjoyable and that when a business transaction is secured, climactic romance is no longer possible unless there is divorce and remarriage. Algernon replies to Jack’s slightly more romantic view of marriage by rebutting with, “ If ever I get married, I'll certainly try to forget the fact”. Wilde is saying through Algernon Moncrieff that marriage at this time was very unromantic and has many parallels to business endeavors as it is a methodical process. Wilde’s disapproval of marriage alludes to his homosexuality and therefore a possible stigmatism against traditional man-woman marriages.
Reflect on Jack’s relationship with Algernon; they are best friends, and yet Algernon did not even know Jack’s real name! Moreover, neither seems all that troubled by this fact. Should they be? Are you?
I think we as readers are meant to reflect on their relationship as positive overall, especially when observing through Jack's point of view. While Jack is made out to be pure because he is trying for a better, easier more carefree life, Algy is made out to be impure because he has a high-end life but he still is unappreciative of it and makes up the excuse of his invalid friend Bunbury. When he confesses to having an on-hand excuse he proclaims, “ I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose”. While we as readers see the two as morally differing, we can still offer comparison as they both are untruthful and certainly not earnest about their true selves. During today’s age, I think we have developed harsh disapproval for lying, especially when it comes to one's Identity, being that there are civil punishments for Identity fraud. That being said as an individual I would be appalled and disappointed in a friend of mine who revealed they are not who they had claimed to be. Considering they both have committed this wrongdoing they relate to one another and are not troubled by this revelation.
Based on Lady Bracknell’s conversation with Jack, what sort of person do you think she is?
Lady Bracknell represents everything Wilde aims to criticize within the Victorian Era. Lady Bracknell interrogates him with very personal questions and ultimately dismisses him, declaring him unfit to marry Gwendolen, specifically after she finds he has no parents. Lady Bracknell is horrified to hear the honest truth being that Jack was found in a handbag at a railway station. Lady Bracknell goes as far as to dismiss his parents and hold wealth above family when she inquires, “Now to minor matters. Are your parents living?”.She clearly represents the high-class, entitled, wealthy, status-oriented people whom Wilde criticizes in this work filled with satirical elements such as this.
Lord Bracknell, Lady Bracknell’s husband, is often mentioned but never appears in the play. What kind of man do you think he is? What sort of relationship do you think he has with Lady Bracknell?
I believe there is a tone of irony in regard to Bracknell's relationship. This assumption was made considering she is dominant and disregards the husband at all costs while the husband hides away and is easily pushed aside. During Victorian times, men's and women's roles were most definitely reversed. When introducing themselves both Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen pride themselves in their relation to Lord Bracknell yet he is never seen and when conversed about is spoken about as if he were a child. In conversation with Algernon, Lady Bracknell declares, “[Lord Bracknell] would have to dine upstairs. Fortunately he is accustomed to that”. This being one of the few mentions of Lord Bracknell is quite telling of her dismissive attitude toward him and therefore the constant battle between sexes during Victorian times.