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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: PLOT SYNOPSIS

SYMBOLISM / MOTIFS / IMAGERY / SYMBOLS

The Importance of Being Earnest employs the use of symbolism in many it the character’s names:

Chasuble

The word chasuble is a vestment worn during services. This is, of course, appropriate given the nature of Chasuble’s profession. It could be interpreted that, because Wilde chose to name him after the “garment,” the covering, the outer vestment-that there is more underneath. Chasuble’s name is also a pun because when said aloud can sound like chaseable. Regarding Miss Prism, he is in fact chase-able, which he had previously claimed he was not. There is more to him than meets the eye

Miss Prism

Miss Prism is a prim woman, and much like the cut glass of a prism. Furthermore, when we learn her true identity at the end of the play-we see that she has distorted whom she really is. She is responsible for a very grave deed -loosing a baby. That is not at all the light she had previously cast.

Ernest

Ernest, regarding both Jack and Algernon, is not earnest at all. An earnest man is sincere and serious. However, when the Ernest identity is assumed, it is ironically when the man can escape and be himself.



KEY FACTS

Title:
The
Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy For Serious People

Author:
Oscar Wilde

Date Published:
1899

Meaning of the Title:
Earnest is a play on words of the character name Ernest. While the name Ernest inspires one to believe a person may be trustworthy and honest, in fact the character Jack/Ernest is deceitful and dishonest. Ironically Jack realizes that, despite his efforts, his whole life has been truthful; he now knows the “Vital Importance of Being Earnest.”

Setting:
The play is set in England in the 1890s. Act I is in London and Acts II & III take place in the country (Hertfordshire).

Genre:
Social Comedy; farce.


Protagonist:

Jack Worthing, the main character. He is known as "Ernest" by his acquaintances in London.

Antagonist:
Lady Bracknell (Gwendolen's mother).

Mood:
Satirical; comical; light.

Point of View/Tense:
First person; present tense

Exposition:
The exposition of the play, Act I, introduces the main character, John Worthing-“Ernest” and presents the major conflict: he wants to marry aristocratic Gwendolen but her mother does not approve. Furthermore, she loves him because of his name.

Climax:
The climactic moment is when the women confront the men about what they have discovered by talking-they can not both be Ernest Worthing. The men confess and the women retreat.

Rising Action:
In Act II Algernon complicates the conflict because he arrives at Jack’s country house and calls himself “Ernest.”

Themes:
Satire of the upper classes; Triviality of Marriage; Victorian Manners; Importance of Wealth/ Life of Leisure

Symbolism/Motifs:
Chasuble; Miss Prism; Ernest / Earnest

Name/ Relationship Facts:
Algernon Moncrieff is Lady Bracknell’s nephew and Gwendolen’s cousin. He pretends to be Ernest in the country, and loves Cecily. Jack Worthing is Cecily’s guardian and pretends to be Ernest in the city. He loves Gwendolen.


PLOT FACTS:

-The story opens in the city, in Algernon’s flat.
- Lady Bracknell will not allow Jack to marry Gwendolen because he was found in Victoria Station as an infant.
- Gwendolen believes that Jack’s name is Ernest - Cecily believes that Algernon’s name is Ernest
- When Jack was an infant, Miss Prism accidentally placed him in a hand-bag and her novel in the baby carriage.
- Jack is really Algernon’s brother; his real name is actually Ernest after all.
- Everyone is allowed to marry


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