Truthand Deception are the Central Themes
Toexplore these two factors of human personality, the play “TheImportance of Being Earnest” focuses its central themes ofdeception and truth through the two antagonists in the play. Truthand deception are two main themes that determine the type ofpersonality that a person is identified with. While deception isabhorred by many, the truth is not much of a desired trait by others.The discussion and analysis of the play will illustrate how theauthor contrasts these two themes by using the lives of thecharacters. In this regard, the discussion will explain why theprotagonists in the play use double personalities and resort toBunburysim to solve their predicaments.
Thesisand themes of Deception and Truth
Theplay shows that deception is as important as the truth, depending onthe circumstances that each is being applied in a person’s life. Inmy opinion, both the truth and deception are used by the playwrightto show how important each of the themes is important to a person. Byusing double identities, the two protagonists JackWorthing and Algernon Moncrieffshow how deception is important in hiding their personality and theextent that people can go to hide their truth (Stone29).In addition, the two themes are important because the playwrightbases the entire of the plot in the development of the play. As aresult, the playwright uses the characters and the plot based on thepresentation of the central themes of deception and truth.
Inthe play, Jack and Algernon Moncrieffact as the agents of deception and truth at the same time. The livesof the two protagonists are based on what is true to the people theyinteract with and what is untrue to the people they want to hidetheir personality from. Right from act one, AlgernonMoncrieff receives his friend Jack but he knows him as Earnest(Parker173).Therefore, the truth of the person he is receiving is Jack, but it ishidden in the personality of Earnest (Parker176).The same hidden personality meets Gwendolen Fairfax, the cousin toAlgernon. Jack, in the personality of Earnest wants to propose toGwendolen as a life partner. At this point, deception is the maintheme that plays to his advantage, and becomes the biggest asset hehas.
Deceptionis used by the two protagonists to help them get accepted. On onehand, deception helps Jack to be accepted by both Algernon andGwendolen. The fact that Gwendolen does not know the true identity ofEarnest makes it possible for the relationship to continue (Stone29).This is because Gwendolen had a preference for men called Earnest.She has always wanted to marry a man called Earnest, and would notlove any other man with a different identity. Therefore, the doubleidentity helps Jack to be accepted through his art of deception.
Onthe other hand, Algernon hides his true identity as Earnest in orderto approach Cecily, an eighteen-year-old ward to Jack. According toRaby(145), hetakes this identity as a way of promoting his acceptability to thepretty lady. In this case, deception acts as the defense of Algernon,who wants to propose to Cecily just like Jack did to Gwendolen(McCormack98).On this side of the country, Algernon is known as Earnest and no oneknows his true identity. This is the opposite of Jack, who is knownas Earnest in the foreign land, but by his own identity in his ownland.
Furtherhiding of truth is seen in the life of Jack. The truth is that he wasadopted while he was still a young baby who was neglected. The lateThomas Cardew found the neglected Jack, adopted and raised him. Asthe father of Cecily, it is now the responsibility of Jack to takecare of Cecily. That being the truth, it is however not known to allthe characters that way (McCormack101).To promote his acceptability in a foreign land, Jack hides thistruth, even from Gwendolen. However, when Gwendolen discovers that hewas neglected and adopted, she is upset and wants to terminate therelationship with Jack.
Deceptionis further important for the characters because it keeps their statusquo in the society. Right from the beginning of the play, Jack usesdeception to explain his foreign trips to his people. He created thedouble identity with Earnest supposed to be his brother that he goesto visit (Parker178).This allows him to go with a valid social excuse that he is trying tokeep a family. However, the truth is that he maintains the characteras a way of hiding the real reasons why he travels. According to Raby(146), hetravels to London in order to do the things that he cannot do whilehe is at home with the ward, Cecily.
Deceptionis further used to cover for the previous deception and hide thetruth. This is used by Jack to cover for things that happen in hislife and present what people want to know. When he realizes that theidentity of Earnest is no longer needed, he deceives the people thathis “brother” Earnest is dead. To conceal the truth, he returnsfrom his trip mourning with a complete make up a story of how hisbrother died in Paris (Parker179).However, the deception of Algernon carries the day because he Jackmeets him at the homeland masquerading as Earnest, the “brother.”
Therevelation of the truth of the truth is taken as an important elementof the characters and eventually the plot of the play. The playwrightuses the truth as an important tool of developing the plot andrevealing the theme of deception (Lalonde670).Throughthe use of the antagonists Jackand Algernon,the playwright shows how deception is as important to hide the truthsand how the truth is important to reveal the deception. When Jack andAlgernon meet in Jack’s homeland, the truth is revealed aboutJack’s deceptions. The revelations further go to ruin a tea partywhen Cecily and Gwendolendiscover the truth about the two men.
Doubleidentities and the use of Bunburyism
Theplaywright successfully presents the theme of dualism in the twoprotagonists who seek to hide their truths through double identities.Jack uses double identity in order to find a personality that willact as the excuse of his behavior. According to Stone(32), Jackresorts to bunburyism as a way of creating an imaginary brother,whose identity he takes in a foreign land. He blames the imaginarybrother for the bad behavior that he himself takes when he is in theforeign land. To him, the other identity is the person to bear theburden of what he does not want to show to the people at home.
Inaddition, the protagonists use double identity in order to beaccepted in the foreign land. While Jack uses the Bunbury of Earnestto be accepted in Algernon’s land, Algernon uses the same Bunburyto be accepted in Jack’s land. They also invent the doubleidentities in order to meet the people they wanted (Lalonde672).Algernon admits to Cecily that he used the double identity in orderto meet her. At the same time, Jack confirms to Gwendolen’ssuggestion that he took the Bunbury of Earnest in order to meet heroften.
Moreover,the two protagonists use double identities in order to protect theirdeception and maintain their duality. Jack takes the identity ofEarnest so as to hide all the lies that he has been telling peopleabout his “brother in London. When he finds that Earnest hasoutlived his usefulness, he kills him, only to be revealed during thereturn home. At the same time, Algernon uses the identity of Earnestso as to deceive Cecily that he is the brother to Jack.
Thetheme of duality is explored in the play through the maintenance ofdouble identities by the two protagonists, Jack and Algernon. Tosuccessfully maintain their deception and hide the truth, the twoprotagonists use the concept of Bunburyism in order to invent theirdouble identities. While Jack uses Earnest to travel to London andpropose to Gwendolen, Algernon uses the same Bunbury to get acceptedin Jack’s land. In this way, the playwright is able to describe thethemes of truth and deception as important to the characters in equalmeasure.
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McCormack,Jerusha. “Wilde’s fiction(s).” The Cambridge Companion to OscarWilde. Ed. Peter Raby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.96-117. Print
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Stone,Geoffrey. “Serious Bunburism: The Logic of ‘The Importance ofBeingEarnest.’ ” A Quarterly Journal of Literary Criticism. Vol.26 (1976): 28-41
Lalonde,Jeremy. “A ‘Revolutionary Outrage’ The Importance of BeingEarnest as Social Criticism.” ModernDrama.Vol. 48:4 (2005): 659-76
Raby,Peter. “The Origins of The Importance of Being Earnest.” ModernDrama. Vol. 37:1 (1994): 139-47