Algernon (Algy) – a figure of dandy; careless, likes to dress nice, leads a double life, in love with Cecily
Jack/John Worthing – in love with Gwendolen, leads a double life, has imaginary brother Earnest
Bunbury – Algernon’s imaginary friend; Bunburying – Algernon’s term for leading a double life
Lady Bracknell – Gwendolen’s mother, a hypocrite, cares only about money and appearance
Gwendolen – in love with Jack just because she thinks his name is Earnest, has a shallow view of love
Cecily – a girl in Jack’s custody, wants to marry Algernon because she thinks his name is Earnest, has a shallow view of love
Chasuble – represents the hypocrisy of Church
COMEDY OF MANNERS
The Importance of Being Earnest can be regarded as a satire, farce, parody, but it is mostly a comedy of manners.
This play criticizes the upper class, ridicules their behavior, flaws, and pretensions, which can be seen especially in the character of Lady Bracknell – she is an example of Victorian hypocrisy, she cares only about money and appearance, for her marriage is business and love is not important, she has no regard for sick or handicapped people.
Dialogues are witty and contain sarcasm and irony. Characters are stock, they don’t represent individuals, but certain types of people; Wilde criticizes the whole society by making caricatures of characters.
Through humor, Wilde shows how ridiculous the behavior of Victorians is. Life of aristocracy is based on hypocrisy(e.g. Lady Bracknell doesn’t accept Jack as her son-in-law under the excuse that his origin is unknown, but when she finds out that he is actually very rich, that doesn’t bother her), superficiality and artificiality.
Money and property have primary importance. As it is said in the play: ‘We live in an age of surfaces.”, all characters are shallow and don’t care about real values in life, such as earnestness or love. The scenes are cleverly constructed – situations are ridiculous and surreal(which provokes humor), there is a lot of coincident(e.g. Gwendolen and Cecily find out that they are both engaged to a man named Ernest).
In this play, marriage is represented as a matter of business, not pleasure or love. That can be seen in Lady Bracknell’s conversation with Jack, who wants to marry her daughter, it looks like a business interview, she questions him about his income and social position.
Gwendolen wants to marry Jack because she thinks his name is Ernest, not carrying if he really possesses the qualities that comprise earnestness, she also doesn’t care how her marriage will look like, is she going to be happy with Ernest, but that her proposal is done according to tradition. Algernon is cynical about marriage, for him it is only an unavoidable obligation until he falls in love.
Jack thinks marriage should be a pleasure (perhaps because he’s already in love). Miss Prism’s attitude is that all respectable men should get married – bachelors permanently become temptations for women if they stay single, it is their duty to stop leading women astray, young women are ”green”, they should wait to marry until they are mature enough to value their husbands.
Miss Prism embraces responsibility and duty – for her marriage is a social responsibility. Cecily believes in happily-ever-after but doesn’t understand the seriousness of marriage because of her youth.