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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: LITERARY ANALYSIS

ACT III

Summary

This Act opens with the women in the Manor House carefully observing the men. When the men enter the house, the women demand to know why they have fabricated their “Ernest” identities. The men say it was only to see them. Gwendolen and Cecily are delighted by this, but still disturbed by the predicament of their Christian names, which remain John and Algernon. The men tell them that they have arranged to be christened later that day. Gwendolen and Cecily gush over how much more self-sacrificing men are.

Lady Bracknell enters; she has received the address from Gwendolen’s maid. She sees Gwendolen and Jack together and asks in horror what it means. Gwendolen tells her mother that she is marrying Jack. Lady Bracknell protests. She asks Algernon, still unsure of where she is, if this is the home of Bunbury. Algernon informs her that Bunbury has died. He then introduces her to Cecily, to whom he tells his aunt he is engaged. Lady Bracknell is leery of the engagement until she realized Cecily is wealthy. Jack, however is still angered about his own problematic engagement, and tells her that as guardian he will not consent to Cecily’s engagement unless she allows Gwendolen to marry him. Because he is Cecily’s guardian until she is thirty-five, she will have to wait a very long time to marry Algernon (she is only eight-teen presently). Lady Bracknell refuses to consent.

Dr. Chasuble arrives for the christenings. Lady Bracknell is appalled by the idea of Algernon being christened. Jack tells Dr. Chasuble that the christenings are no longer needed. When Dr. Chasuble says that he will return to Miss Prism, Lady Bracknell inquires about her, and upon realizing that Miss Prism is whom she suspects her to be, insists on seeing her.

When Miss Prism arrives she also recognizes Lady Bracknell. Lady Bracknell accuses her of taking a baby, twenty-eight years ago. It turns out that Miss Prism was in charge of Lady Bracknell’s sister’s baby (Algernon’s mother, Mrs. Moncrieff), whom she lost. Miss Prism confesses that she accidentally placed the baby in her hand-bag and her novel in the perambulator. She left the bag in Victoria Station. Upon hearing this, Jack retrieves the hand-bag in which he was found. It is the same bag. Jack is Algernon’s older brother.

The final issue is that of Jack’s Christian name. He naturally would have been named after his father, since he is the eldest son. However, no one can remember “the General’s” Christian name. Jack happens to have The Army Lists of the last forty years. Amazingly, they discover that Jack’s real name is (as his father’s was) Ernest John Worthing. Everyone is delighted. John can now marry Gwendolen and he gives consent for Algernon to marry Cecily. Chasuble and Miss Prism call one another by their first names and embrace. John realizes that, despite his efforts, his whole life has been truthful; he now knows the “Vital Importance of Being Earnest.”

Notes

This final Act serves a surprising, unlikely, and humorous resolution. Continuing in its satirical fashion-the men are easily forgiven, Lady Bracknell surprises everyone and refuses to allow the marriage, an unexpected twist occurs in which we find out that Ernest is really whom he thought he was, and the day is saved.

The women in this play forgive the men as easily as they accept their marriage proposals. The Lady Bracknell twist demonstrates Wilde’s poking fun at the aristocracy. To them money is what counts, and marriage is a financial agreement. When Lady Bracknell discovers Jack’s true identity, all is resolved and he is allowed to marry Gwendolen. The final line by Jack, “I’ve finally realized for the first time in my life, the vital Importance of Being Earnest,” is an excellent closing line for the play because it encompasses all of the irony with which this plot is laden.


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