In The Importance of Being Earnest the words ‘Bunbury’ and ‘Bunburyism’ are used often by Algernon. He explains the concept of ‘Bunburyism’ as a strategy used by people like himself who need an excuse to avoid social obligations in their daily life. Algernon uses the word ‘bunburying’ when mentioning he invented a fictional friend called ‘Bunbury’, a chronic invalid, to have an excuse for getting out of events he doesn’t want to attend. He identifies Jack as displaying Bunburyism through his use of ‘Ernest’ as a disguise when in the city and an excuse to leave when living in his country home.
Rhetoric and Witticisms
Both Jack and Algernon can be considered a dandy by society’s standards in the way that they are excessively concerned with their appearances in society. In doing so, they speak with a contradictory amount of indifference of others’ views that results in a display of witty comments and comebacks. Lady Bracknell uses lots of hyperbole and rhetorical speech as she constantly persuades Gwendolen and Jack away from each other, and even Algernon and Cecily. In general the play is filled with lots of paradoxes and witty comments including the pun in name ‘Ernest’ for the title ‘Earnest.’
The play is filled with symbolism of both objects and concepts. The city represents a place of sin, vices and social obligations, whilst the country is seen as a place of innocence, typified by the character of Cecily. The cigarette case which Jack is given by Cecily represents his relationship with the young girl: the close attachment he has to something he regularly interacts with, the responsibility of care he has over something highly valuable, and the ability for it to reveal his true identity as Jack Worthing, not ‘Ernest’. Other symbols include food, orphans, diaries, letters, novels and the handbag.
Key Quote 1
In Act One, Algernon proclaims to Jack that ‘All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.’ Through his words, Algernon makes a clear distinction between the sexes and how time and family can influence them, becoming one of the many examples of Wilde’s commentary on Victorian society. Algernon makes this declaration with great confidence so that it sounds like he is identifying clear facts. The use of short sentences helps to strengthen Algernon’s conviction that he is speaking the truth, demonstrating his arrogant and stubborn, yet insightful nature.
Key Quote 2
In Act Two, on seeing Algernon in his country home, Jack berates his friend by saying ‘your vanity is ridiculous, your conduct an outrage, and your presence in my garden utterly absurd.’ The list of three criticisms emphasises the extent of Jack’s anger toward Algernon and disapproval of his presence, but also reflects how tightly controlled Jack is in the situation, being careful not to lose his composure in his own home, a place where he has built a respectable reputation. The repetition of ‘your’ also highlights how Jack’s frustration comes from multiple aspects of one individual’s behaviour: Algernon’s.
Key Quote 3
In Act Three, when discussing the suitable age for marriage, Lady Bracknell says ‘London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years.’ Through her words, Wilde comments on the behaviour of women in regards to marriage, revealing a deception on their own part in much the same way men deceive through the act of ‘Bunburyism’. Lady Bracknell’s words are said in a factual way, non-consequential way, with a sense that she is accepting of the deceit some women commit in order to secure their marriage prospects.
- Explain Bunburyism in your own words.
- Your answer should include: Deception / Excuse / Social / Obligations / Bunbury / Hidden / Lives
- How does Wilde use symbolism to comment on contemporary society?
- Your answer should include: City / Country / Valuable / Items / Valuable / People / Responsibility / Social / Expectations
- How does Wilde present Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest? (six lines)
- Your answer should include: Arrogant / Eloquent / Stubborn / Insightful / Frustrating / Manipulative / Deceitful / Witty