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Free Study Guide: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde - Free BookNotes

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THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST: ONLINE BOOK SUMMARY

ACT II


Notes

This section of the play offers a sly comment on writing, which, this story being the product of a writer, should be examined. Like the rest of the play, his statements about writing are not to be taken verbatim; it is to be assumed that he is being satirical. Miss Prism says of Dr Chasuble that he must be intelligent; he has never written a book. Wilde, a prolific writer would not attest to this belief, but it may be inferred, much along the same lines with the rest of this prose, that he would advocate the opposite. Wilde would consider those who have written to be intelligent.

In this Act we can observe parallel relationships with the first Act. For instance, Algernon and Jack must both escape their homes to be carefree. In the first Act Algernon was uptight about Jack finishing the cucumber sandwiches prepared for Lady Bracknell’s visit. In this Act Jack angry that Algernon is Bunburying in his serious, home atmosphere. Neither Algernon, nor Jack will allow the girl over whom he has authority (Gwendolen and Cecily, respectively) to marry. The authority figures, Lady Bracknell and Miss Prism, have less authority then they believe over the girls. Gwendolen published her engagement in the paper and visits Jack after she has been forbidden by Lady Bracknell to marry him. Cecily is able to manipulator her way out of her lessons, by getting Miss Prism to walk with Dr. Chasuble. Finally, the girls are quite similar. Each appears shallow, and each loves “Ernest” because of his name.

Here we find also the rising action and climax of the play. The plot becomes complicated when Algernon arrives and claims he is Ernest. Wilde uses dramatic irony (the audience knows something that the central characters do not) regarding the double Ernest situation. When Jack arrives back at his home and tells Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble that his brother has dies, the reader knows that “his brother” has arrived only a short time before. Next, when Cecily urges Uncle Jack to forgive his brother, the audience knows, while she does not, that Algernon has complicated Jack’s lie. Finally, the grandest example of dramatic irony is the fact that none of the characters, except Algernon and Jack, know about the Bunburying or that Ernest is a false identity.

Wilde has, in this Act, a wide variety of humorous, absurd statements that trivialize the upper class. For instance, Cecily says to Algernon: “It is always painful to part from people whom one has known for a very brief space of time. The absence of old friends, one can endure with equanimity.” This is but one example of dozens, which are humorous because they are ridiculous. There is another example of Wilde’s art for art’s sake philosophy. Upon hearing Algernon’s explanation for calling himself Ernest, Cecily remarks that it doesn’t matter if she believes him-they way he said it counts more because it was beautiful. Beauty for beauty’s sake

Perhaps most vital to this act, is the further degradation of marriage. Upon hearing that Jack’s “deceased brother” was unmarried, Miss Prism comments that people who live for pleasure usually are. Leading one to believe those who do not live for pleasure, marry-the natural conclusion is that marriage is not a pleasurable arrangement. This section also comments that married man are no longer attractive and a talked about man is attractive. Finally, the simplicity with which marriage is agreed upon, suggests that it is not a serious arrangement.


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