The Importance of Being Earnest
Want a study guide too?
Oscar Wilde was a beast when it came to wordplay. Oh, maybe that's why Shmoop loves him so much—we're pretty wilde, too.
|Author||Wilde - Oscar Wilde|
|Themes||Foolishness and Folly|
Lies and Deceit
Respect and Reputation
Society and Class
Versions of Reality
characters. Sort of.
Best buds Jack and Algernon <Al-jer-non> have a lot in common. They’re both rich, they’re
both in love, and they both make the same lame-brained mistakes.
Exhibit A: Jack creates a fake brother named “Ernest,” as a handy alibi for weekend
Exhibit B: Algernon also pretends to be Ernest, so he can meet ladies.
Which brings us to Exhibit C: Jack and Algernon’s better halves end up thinking they’re in
love with the same man… Ernest. Having a little trouble keeping the characters
Yeah, us too.
Did Oscar Wilde just copy and paste the same character?
Why does he make Jack and Algernon so similar? Maybe it was for comedic effect.
Algernon and Jack don’t take any bowling balls to the family jewels, but they still
manage some Youtube-worthy gaffes.
Plus, they’re both big on talking, which is an excuse for Wilde to whip out his witty
Wilde really enjoys a good farce.
Jack and Algernon’s shenanigans include fighting over pastries, flirting with each
other’s female relatives, and that whole “fake person” scam.
One “Ernest” is pushing it, but here we’re talkin’ a seriously, Ernest-happy alternate
universe. Or maybe Wilde was trying to say that one
of these things is NOT like the other.
Jack and Algernon seem like twin BFFs, but when they argue, we see that each is crazy
in his own special way.
Sure, Jack invented an imaginary sibling to help him escape responsibility, but at least
he worries about the future. Algernon? Not so much.
And while Jack tries to look like a role model, Algernon concentrates on looking sharp. And
Algernon and Jack are foils for each other—and we don’t mean the kind you use to cover
More like the compare/contrast kind. With less ricotta.
Here’s a third perspective… maybe Wilde cloned his characters to make a statement
about the snobby Victorian upper classes… it’s not you, it’s them.
Names are everything in this play. “Ernest” is much less attractive when he turns out
to be plain old Jack and/or Algernon. Well, okay, Algernon’s still pretty fancy.
And Jack could be Brad Pitt for all Lady Bracknell cares… if he wants to marry Gwendolen, he’d
better scrounge up a family tree to prove his worth. …
A handbag isn’t going to cut it.
It also helps if you’re made of money. Lady Bracknell isn’t super-thrilled with Algernon’s
fiancée, Cecily, until she hears that cash cowbell.
No one in this play seems to care too much about personality.
It doesn’t matter if Jack cuts in line at Disneyland, and Algernon finally buys that
puppy-kicking machine… money and pedigree will get them what they want.
So why did Wilde make Jack and Algernon almost-but-not-quite the same?
Is he aiming for our funny bones?
Is he a fan of the foil?
Or is he picking a fight with British society?
We earnestly want to know.
Shmoop amongst yourselves.