Oscar Wilde frames “The Importantness of Being Earnest” around the paradoxical Epigram. This is a metaphor that mocks the central theme of the play, the division of truth/identity. It also hint at a homosexual subtext. Wilde’s absurdly funny, but still grounded wit is also exposed in 1655 as the “shallow masks of manners” of Victorian society. “Earnest” uses clever wordplay and frantic misunderstanding to show that even in a civilized society, everyone lives double lives. This is a concept with which Wilde, the homosexual closeted, was clearly obsessed.
The play’s main thrust is in exploring bisexual identities. Jack and Algernon’s “Bunburys”, who are geographical personas for both the country and city, serve as escapes from social obligations. The punning name’s homoerotic connotations (even the double, alliterative “bu”‘s) create a union. Furthermore, “Bunbury”, which rhymes with British slang “buggery,” flares up when it is combined with Algernon’s frequent assaults on marriage.
ALGERNON. “…She places me next Mary Farquhar. Mary Farquhar is known for her flirting at the dinner table with her husband. That’s not pleasant. This behavior isn’t even considered acceptable, and is rapidly increasing. It is quite scandalous that so many London women are having affairs with their husbands. It is so shameful. It’s just washing your clean linen in public.” (1633).
Wilde’s epigram is a mixed truth. It states the usual in a comical fashion, like Algernon’s aghast response to marital flirtation. Then, it ends with tweaking an old cliche, such as “washing your clean linen.” His deep-seated resentment about public displays of heterosexual affection for “clean” linen implies that his linen must be washed in privacy.
Wilde holds Jack back and increases drama tension by denying that Jack is a Bunburyist, despite them being both males. The characters indulge in hyperbolic conviction through their short speeches. This fast-paced technique magnifies and exposes the play’s distant relationship towards vaudevillian humor. Jack, on the other hand, is repulsive to the idea of homosexuality, possibly even to the point that he feels ashamed. Algernon makes fun of the expression “to part” and shows his unwillingness to separate himself from the world. It is very frustrating for a man to marry Bunbury and not know Bunbury. (1634). Jack says he’s going to “kill [his] sister,” implying that all he will do is kill a part of himself. “That is absurd.” Gwendolen is the most charming girl I’ve ever seen and I will marry her. Bunbury would be a terrible choice. Gwendolen is the only man he trusts with his soulmate. In most plays, this is just a declaration of love.
Wilde extends homosexuality’s duality to females, as Algernon points Out Gwendolen’s alternative for staid marriage: “Then you wife will.” “Two is company, three is a crowd” (1634). Wilde revises an old aphorism (“Two’s Company, Three’s A Crowd”) and applies it to his own subversive purposes. Wilde also ridicules two cultural specimens: the cliched French love triangle and English marriage. Wilde believes that art and life can be combined in epigram. This pillar gives Wilde a basis for his observations. It adds contemporaryity for his Victorian audience and preserves universality for future performances. Algernon uses a cultish language to Jack, which must prove to be a fairly universal puzzle for audience members. I’d like to share the rules with you” (1633). These “rules,” which one can assume are the unwritten codes for homosexuality, are not explained by Algernon. Wilde then reveals another duality in the theater. Which members of the audience “get them” and which ones are still unaware. Wilde uses a comically dissonant effect to emphasize the ignorance of female characters about a situation, as opposed to Jack and Algernon codifying Bunburying against an unassuming audience.
Gwendolen & Cecily are a prime example of such absurd confusion. Wilde takes material from this scene to show the mercurial natures of female emotion. Gwendolen opens with the words “Cecily Cardew?” It’s a lovely name! You sound like a great friend to me. You are my best friend. My first impressions are not wrong about people” (1653). A punning prop is used to make her blindness to the circumstance. “Cecily is mamma’s view on education. So do you mind me looking at your face through my glasses?” (1653) She has more laughs when she banishes any suspicions of foul play. He is the embodiment of honor and truth. He would not tolerate deception or disloyalty” (1654). Even though deception is more severe, the term disloyalty recalls Bunburying.
Wilde can then critique Victorian politesses that often shadow ill intent once the women are officially at variance. “CECILY.” is the result of the fight, which takes place in the absence any witnesses. This is not the place to be a shallow persona. I consider a spade to be a spade. GWENDOLEN. [satirically] I’m glad to report that I haven’t seen a spade. It is evident that our social spheres are vastly different.” (1655). This is a horrible insult in class-conscious England. But, as Wilde points to in his stage directions (1655), it is actually “the existence of the servants [that] exercise a restraining impact, under which the girls chafe.” This juxtaposition of the high and low classes creates a comedy of errors in social behavior, where women treat each other with as much contempt as they do for their food.
“CECILY. …May I make you some tea, Miss Fairfax?”
GWENDOLEN. [with politeness and elaborateness] [aside] Detestable girl! But I need tea!
CECILY. [sweetly] Sugar?
GWENDOLEN. [superciliously] Sorry, no. Sugar isn’t fashionable anymore. [CECILY stares angrily at her and takes the tongs, putting four sugar lumps into the cup. (1655)
Gwendolen’s inability to contain herself leads her to revert to her earlier intuition and make their relationship a binarism. I felt that your lies and deceitfulness were what I was feeling. These matters are not deceitful to me. “My first impressions about people are always right” (1656).
Wilde directs the stage and makes women’s emotions reversals visible. Gwendolen stands four times while she is talking to Cecily. More exaggerated is the reaction of the women to confront the men. She calls out “Ernest!” Gwendolen retorts, but Jack soon denies his engagement to Cecily. Cecily then kisses Jack on the cheek. Six lines later, Cecily informs Gwendolen that “Ernest” is actually Jack. Cecily repeats the same actions – retreating, kissing, retreating – and ends with the same skeletal dialogue construction: “Thanks.” I knew there must be some misunderstanding, Miss Fairfax/I felt there was some slight error, Miss Cardew. The women reply to the disclosure by revealing their names and then saying “Oh!” Both men respond in the same way, admitting their deception. Wilde has successfully merged the two women into one unit. He also merged the men into the other.
“CECILY. [to GWENDOLEN] We have both been deceived.
GWENDOLEN. Poor Cecily, the wounded!
CECILY. Gwendolen, my sweet and wronged!
GWENDOLEN. [Slowly, but seriously] You will refer to me as your sister, won’t you? [They embrace. JACK AND ALGERNON groan as they walk up-and-down.
Ironically, this new sisterhood is in stark contrast to Algernon’s falsified brotherhood. The simultaneous groaning, physical movement, and sighs of the distraught men amplify the speed and new friendship duality that has preceded them.
Jack finishes the play’s final scene by declaring that Jack “it is terrible for a man suddenly to discover that he had been speaking nothing but truth all of his life.” (1667). Wilde believes that confronting oneself is the most frightening job in this world. Wilde jokes lightly about the social machinations of Victorian women. While he could not help but be a part of this world, he can distance himself through a pithy statement. However, Wilde takes homosexuality and its tension, his own mask, far more seriously. Jack refuses to acknowledge his entry into Bunbury’s underworld. We never learn the proper conduct rules from Algernon. It’s not surprising that homosexuality is made into a character’s double. Critics argue that Dr. Jekyl, the evil counterpart of Mr. Hyde, may have some homosexual leanings. This controversial and embarrassing topic can be disguised and hidden in the murky depths. The bifurcated view on sexuality in literature is likely to be outdated with the scientific evidence supporting it.