The importance of being earnest
John Worthing, known as Jack, the play's protagonist , is a pillar of the community, in Hertfordshire, where he is guardian to the pretty Cecily, the eighteen-year-old grandaughter of the late Thomas Cardew, who found and adopted him when he was a baby. In Hertfordshire, Jack has responsabilities: he is a major landowner, and justice of peace, with tendants, farmers, and a number of servants and other employees all dependent on him.
For years he has also pretended to have an irresponsable black-sheep brother named Ernest who leads a scandalous life in pursuit of plasure and is allways getting into trouble of a sort , that requiers Jack to rush grimly off to his assistance. In fact, Ernest is merely Jack's aliby, a phantom that alows him to disappear for days at a time, and do as he likes.
No one but Jack knows that he himself is Ernest. This is the name Jack goes by , to London, which is where he really goes on these occasions, probably to pursue the very sort of behavoir he pretends to disaprove of his brother.
The double life is the central methaphor in the play, epitomized in the notion of "Bunbury" . As defined by Algernon, Bunburying is a practice of creating an elaborate deception that alows jack to apear far more moral and responsable than he actually is.
Similary, Algernon's imaginary inalid frien, Bunbury allows Algernon to escape to the country, where he presumably imposes on people that don't know him, in much the same way he mposes to Cecily in the play, all the while seeming to demonstrate Crishtian, charity.
The opening scene of " The Importance of Being Ernest" establishes a highly stylized , unrealistic world in which no one talks the way ordinary people talk and very little seems to matter to anyone.Algernon and Lane, as well as most other characters in the play, are both literary constructs, that is, litarary devices creates solely to say particular things at particular moments.
They have almost no life or significance apart from the way they talk. Theyr language is sharp, brittle, and full of elegant witticism and mild, ironic pronouncements..For exemple, Lane's first line , when he says ironically that he did'n feel it was "polite" to listen to Algernon's badly piano playing, is an insult couched in polite , elegant language.
A central purpose of the scene between these two characters is to lay the foundation for the joke about the cucumber sandwiches, an incident that marks the first appearace of food as a source of conflict as well as a substitute for other appetites. Algernon absentmindedly eats all the cucucmber sandwiches ordered especially for Lady Bracknell, during the dialog with Lane.In this particular scene, food substitutes for the ideea of sex.
The ideea becomes apparent in the early excange between Algernon and Jack over the question whether Jack should eat the cucumber sandwiches or bread and butter that were made for Gwendolen, the woman he is in love with.
Here, algernon interprets eating as a form of social, even sexual, presumption; when Jack demonstrates too much enthusiasm for the bread and butter, he is being reproached that he's behaving as though he were "married to Gwendolen already", as though he had touched her in an aggressive or salacious manner.
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