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Frances Moore

Mrs.Flinterman Language and Literature 11


How social roles are used as a social criticism in The Importance of Being Earnest.

“ I’ve now realized for the first time the vital The Importance of Being Earnest.“(Wilde 180). Jack stated after a long abundance of confusion and much controversy over to whom Earnest really was. The Importance of Being Earnest a play wrote in the Victorian era by author Oscar Wilde an incomprehensible man living in the 1800 hundreds wrote The Importance of Being Earnest to mirror his own life. A lot of Wildes opinions are carried out as common themes throughout the whole play. It is the purpose of this essay to discuss where the social roles duality, identity and Victorian norms are socially criticized within The Importance of Being Earnest.

Duality the first most common theme within The Importance of Being Earnest is show firstly when the two protagonists if the play Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff. With Algernon living in the city of London he creates a fictitious character called “Bunbury” that he visits in the country and Jack living in the country creates a fictitious brother called earnest that lives in the city. This was Wildes way of bringing in an alter ego to allow them to evade responsibility and many unpleasing social ties. This tragicomedy dialogue between the two foreshadows problems that come along later down the plot.
Algernon: What you really are is a Bunburyist. I was quite right in saying you were a Bunburyist. You are one of the most advanced Bunburyists know.
Jack: What on earth do you mean?
Algernon: You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up to town as often as you like. 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. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable. (p. 14).

This quote indicates that Wilde used this whole “Duality” theme to mirror what was happening in his life. This quote doesn’t only reflect duality in the play but also in Wildes own life. The use of irony in term of double life was used to make the audience think one thing, when something completely different might be happening. While Algernon uses the excuse of bunbury and having to go see him often makes the audience think he might have another frequent bachelor trip to be made, hence why lady Bracknell questions him when it comes to the romance between him and Gwendolyn. Furthermore Oscar Wilde lived a very controversy life being a very lively homosexual man in the 1800`s was not all that easy therefore it was probably a way to let the audience into his personal life a little more.

Secondly, identity is reflected in the play The importance of being earnest is a trivial topic when it comes to the controversy of “Who is Earnest? “.
Jack: “Well, my name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country, and the cigarette case was given to me in the country”(Wilde act 1). This reveals the name of Cecily to algernon as jack had by accident left his other life in algernons apartment. the name was engraved in the ciggarett case, with that Algernon makes it his mission to figure out who celcity is resulting in the revlaeation on ernest and jack. While Jack is stating how he is two different people in the country and city; Algernon also reveals his double standard life. This doesn’t only tie into identity but also back to the theme of duality. Due to Lady Bracknell only figuring out at the end of the play who jacks real identity is, although Jack cannot change his identity he changes is personality in certain social settings , when playing a particular social role and his own