Study Guide

An Ideal Husband Memory and the Past

By Oscar Wilde

Memory and the Past

In An Ideal Husband, the past is mostly a thing one wishes had never happened. The characters don't want to talk about the past or hear about it. They definitely don't want a letter from it, especially if said letter identifies them as an erstwhile crook. There's some dispute about the past's influence on the future. Does it define these characters? Or can they leave the past behind like a snake shedding an old skin? Ultimately, love buries the old ghosts and banishes the vipers. With the promise of one new marriage and one renewed one, the last act of the play looks resolutely toward the future.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. How do physical objects bring the past into the present?
  2. Is Sir Robert really as safe as he feels at the end of the play? If another Mrs. Cheveley comes out of the woodwork, with another letter, how might things be different?
  3. How do unforeseen consequences of past actions drive the plot of An Ideal Husband?

Chew on This

An Ideal Husband pits different conceptions of human development against each other. Through the course of the play, the author endorses the idea of a human being as a work in progress. A person's past is just a draft in the ongoing creation of identity.

As the millennium approaches, the couples reject the past as represented by Mrs. Markby and Lord Caversham.