The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde
Ernest and Bunbury
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
The two imaginary people created by Jack and Algernon might symbolize the empty promises or deceit of the Victorian era. Not only is the character Ernest anything but earnest for the majority of the play, but he also doesn’t even really exist. This makes Jack’s creation of him doubly deceitful. Bunbury sounds as ridiculous and fictional as he actually is. Both of them allow Jack and Algernon to live a lie – seeming to uphold the highest moral standards, while really misbehaving without suffering any consequences. Jack takes it a bit farther since he actually impersonates his so-called good-for-nothing brother.
Even when Jack and Algernon are caught in their lies, they never suffer any real punishment. That they can both kill off their imaginary alter egos or friends without much to-do, shows Victorian society’s real values. The Victorian era did not value honesty, responsibility, or compassion for the under-privileged (neither Lady Bracknell or Algernon exhibit much pity for Bunbury when he "dies"), but only style, money, and aristocracy. It is appropriate that the nonexistent characters of Ernest and Bunbury show how shallow are the Victorians’ real concerns.