The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde
The Importance of Being Earnest Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Act.Line) Every time a character talks counts as one line, even if what they say turns into a long monologue.
Algernon: I love hearing my relations abused. It is the only thing that makes me put up with them at all. Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven't got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die. (I.222)
Algernon’s dislike of his familial relations can be seen as a comment on how the British inheritance system functions. Algernon exaggerates the aristocratic greed for money. If his older siblings would die, Algernon could legally inherit all his father’s financial assets.
Miss Prism: [Calling] Cecily, Cecily! Surely such a utilitarian occupation as the watering of flowers is rather Moulton's duty than yours? Especially at a moment when intellectual pleasures await you. Your German grammar is on the table. (II.1)
Education differentiates the higher classes from lower ones. Miss Prism insists that Cecily leave menial work to servants while concentrating on her lessons. The idea is that the more educated Cecily is, the more she will impress important men in the future and possibly improve her prospects in marriage. She could potentially marry into an aristocratic family and better her current position.
Cecily: May I offer you some tea, Miss Fairfax?
Gwendolen: [With elaborate politeness] Thank you. [Aside] Detestable girl! But I require tea!
Cecily: [Sweetly] Sugar?
Gwendolen: [Superciliously] No, thank you. Sugar is not fashionable any more. [Cecily looks angrily at her, takes up the tongs and puts four lumps of sugar into the cup.]
Cecily: [Severely] Cake or bread and butter?
Gwendolen: [In a bored manner] Bread and butter, please. Cake is rarely seen at the best houses nowadays.
Cecily: [Cuts a very large slice of cake, and puts it on the tray.] Hand that to Miss Fairfax. (II.308-314)
Cecily takes advantage of the aristocratic Gwendolen’s comic obsession with fashion. To most people, it doesn’t matter whether or not one puts sugar in her tea or eats bread and butter instead of cake. But to Gwendolen, these choices are important statements on one’s stylishness and, ultimately, one's reputation among peers. Here, Cecily takes advantage of her lower birth to insult Gwendolen.