The Importance of Being Earnest, Marriage and Respectability Download this essay Print Save Essay
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In the Victorian times respectability was very important and you were only really respected if you were in the Upper Class. An example of this is in Act 1 when Lady Bracknell is questioning Jack Worthing about his life, upbringing and income. She starts off by telling Jack that she has “the same list as the dear Duchess of Bolton”, so she is instantly trying to make Jack respect her and almost worry that he isn’t good enough for Gwendolen and therefore her questions might be personal and therefore he might just want to go and not waste her time.
The way she talks by talking about her own personal opinion about the question she is about to ask before she has asked it, so it’s almost pressurising Jack into saying a similar answer to stay on her ‘good side’.
But the way she talks shows how she thinks she more important than Jack and she is trying to find faults. When she starts asking about his housing she asks where and what number Jack lives at and when he replies “149” she shakes her head, saying “The unfashionable side. I thought there was something.” This shows that she has been trying to find faults, maybe because she does not think he born in to a high enough class to be allowed to marry Gwendolen. When she does find a major fault she sounds disgusted as her sentences have become just a word or two long. “Found”, “A handbag?”. As Jack has some faults Lady Bracknell basically says ‘no, you can’t marry Gwendolen’ because she doesn’t think that he has enough respect to become her son-in-law as he might end up with people not having as much respect for Lady Bracknell.
Although when Lady Bracknell finds out about Cecily Cardew, his ward, she instantly has respect for her, because while she was questioning Jack about her she asked whether “Miss Cardew has any little fortune” but when she finds out that Cecily has “about a hundred and thirty thousand pounds in the Funds”, Lady Bracknell sounds shocked that a young girl is to be in possession of that amount of money, she then almost turns back on all she had previously said by going “Miss Cardew seems to me a most attractive young lady, now that I look at her.” Although near the end of the play you discover that before Lady Bracknell married Lord Bracknell she “had no fortune of any kind”, when you read this you discover that Lady Bracknell would have had no respect and throughout the play she has been hypocritical towards the other characters.
This also shows Lady Bracknell’s views on marriage as she is very reluctant to let Gwendolen marry Jack, as she doesn’t think he is respected enough nor has enough money to be part of her family. So basically Lady Bracknell’s views on marriage are that the parents must choose the husband of their daughter, and make sure that he is respectable, has a good fortune, well known family background and many homes in expensive areas. Although it turns out that Lady Bracknell would have previously hoped that the families she hoped to marry into wouldn’t mind the fact that she was poor and had no respect. It also shows that since she has married Lord Bracknell she has been influenced to think the opposite to what she would have done previously.
Algernon’s views on marriage aren’t very good at the beginning of the play as he thinks that “a man that marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it”, and “that in married life three is company and two is none.” So basically Algernon’s imaginary invalid friend Bunbury has been made up so if he ever does marry he can escape his wife and family and see other women as he would tell his wife that Bunbury is under the weather, therefore the “three is company and two is none” is just simply saying that you can get easily bored with having just woman in his life, but having two is different and you can alternate between two women. Also at the beginning of the play Algernon asks his servant Lane why it is that “at a bachelor’s establishment the servants invariably drink the champagne”, Lane replies by saying that the quality is better in a bachelors house than in “married households” as in married households, there are other things the man has to spend his money on like wife and children, so the quality of champagne isn’t as expensive or “of a first-rate brand”.
After that Algernon thinks that married life is an unpleasant experience as he has to spend more money, and the champagne isn’t as high quality. Later on in the play, towards the end Algernon stands up to his Aunt Augusta (Lady Bracknell) by saying that he doesn’t “care a twopence about social possibilities”, so Algernon is saying that he doesn’t mind if he looses respect by marrying Cecily because he loves her. He has also killed off Bunbury by this point, I think maybe because he has never been in love properly before, and he always thought that marriage was a bad thing, but his family would expect him to get married, therefore he created Bunbury so he could still leave a bachelor style life on the side.
But by killing Bunbury its made you feel that Algernon is serious about marriage and wants to be with one woman, Cecily. I also feel that near the end of the play when it is discovered that Jack is really Algernon’s older brother, he has become a bit jokey with Jack as he calls him “old boy”, but I think that Algernon feels that he is in a higher class than Jack still, even though they are brothers as he then calls him “my dear boy”, so Algernon isn’t treating Jack with much respect there. I feel that Algernon likes to be respected, but doesn’t like to respect other people.
Gwendolen is mainly respected because she is part of the Bracknell family, who seem to be rich with a large house, and her mother wants the ‘best’ for her. She is also old fashioned when it comes to a marriage proposal, as Jack says “we must get married at once” and although Gwendolen has practically said yes she insists that Jack proposes properly by getting down on one knee and asking “Gwendolen, will you marry me?” Of course Gwendolen says yes. We learn that when Gwendolen was a little girl she had dreams of marrying someone called Ernest, and thinks that the “only safe name is Ernest”. She also mentions that the first time she heard that Algernon, her cousin, had a friend named Ernest, she knew she “was destined to love him”. Although Gwendolen isn’t the most intelligent woman as she really doesn’t care about money, appearance or lifestyle, as long as the man she is with is called Ernest.
Cecily is very similar to Gwendolen as she also had a childhood dream of marrying a man named Ernest. She also doesn’t care about how much money or power the man has as long as Ernest is his name. When she found out that Jack had a ‘brother named Ernest’ she was excited and interested about meeting him, and had already decided that they were engaged. Cecily has also planned out what Ernest (Algernon) has given her, “this is the little bangle with the true lovers’ knot I promised you always to wear”, “this is the box in which I keep all your dear letters”. Cecily have sent herself gifts and letters pretending that she herself is Ernest and has kept them all, when Ernest sees all these treasures he seems quite shocked but doesn’t want to hurt Cecily, because his main intention is to marry her.