Last Updated 31 Jan 2023

Bad Judgement in Importance of Being Earnest

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All of us make bad choices. We say we are too lazy or tired to do our chores, we procrastinate on our homework to binge watch a tv show or even mess with our friends just for the fun of things. It’s not that we want to make our lives harder it is just that we want to enjoy the simple things in life. We can even go to extremes like drinking excess amounts of champagne, creating an imaginary friend or pretending to be someone you’re not in order to score a date.

At least that is what made life more enjoyable for the character Algernon in the play the Importance of Being Earnest. As someone belonging to high society, Algernon uses his position and large inheritance to indulge in visiting expensive restaurants and clubs while racking up debts and sleeping around with many women. Although he takes advantage of his ability to have fun he also subtly critiques the brutal nature of the world he lives in by highlighting the downsides of the upper class. In the play the Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde portrays Algernon as mischievous in nature and having a tendency to cause trouble in order to make him seem careless, but in reality his actions serve as a distraction from the pressures of society.

Throughout the play, Algernon’s cleverness serves as comedic relief in which his irresponsible actions are seemingly driven by his desire to have fun. When Algernon learns of Jack’s arrival he suggests that they go clubbing or go dine at a fancy restaurant, therefore completely ignoring his prior arrangement with his aunt to have dinner. His lack of responsibility is furthered when he reveals his intention behind creating Bunbury. Jack’s announcement that he has created an imaginary brother named Ernest which allows him to travel to the city whenever he wants prompts Algernon to confess that he too has created a fictional friend named Bunbury. Algernon explains that he can use Bunbury as an excuse to get out of social functions that he does not want to attend.

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This builds Algernon’s character to be one that is irresponsible and someone who is incapable of dealing with important people. Jack doubts that Algernon could even grasp his intentions behind proposing to Gwendolen in saying, “I don’t know whether you’ll be able to understand my real motives. You are hardly serious enough,” showing how even Algernon’s closest friends do not think that he is capable of anything but caring about himself (Wilde 13). His carefree attitude causes him to act impulsively in deciding to pretend to take on the persona of Ernest Worthing and win over Cecily, Jack’s ward, and propose to her within a day of meeting. Time and time again, Algernon decides to do things without considering the consequences. He racks up debt, lies to his aunt and his best friend and deceives Cecily into believing he is someone he is not all to entertain his own desires.

As self-indulging as his desires may be, Algernon’s actions point to a deeper motive: the intention to escape societal expectations. In the case of inventing Bunbury, he explains that this allows him to escape to the countryside at any time which also means he wants to get away from the city. In the city he has obligations to meet with other upper class people and make connections so the fact that he goes to an extreme to create a fake friend as an excuse shows how much he despises playing the role of a socialite.

In one instance when he is talking to his butler, Lane, Algernon comments that those in the working class, “seem...to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility,” implying that people lower in the social order will never understand the hardships that come with being in his position (Wilde 6). He goes on to say that, “it isn’t easy to be anything nowadays. There’s such a lot of beastily competition about,” which highlights the idea that the dog-eat-dog world of the upper class is something that he does want to be a part of.

In comparing him with his Aunt Augusta, we can see how different Algernon really is. She is someone who has a lot of pride in her social standing and eagerly part takes in dinners and events involving other successful people. Her insistence to have Gwendolen marry a man with wealth and power rivals the whimsical desires of Algernon who has relations with many women and marries Cecily, a girl with no parents or social influence. The way that Algernon presents himself as irresponsible is really a method to repel the expectations that society places on him and allows him to live the life he actually wants to live.

Overall, the choices Algernon makes create a false impression of himself to others as a way to hide his true desire of living freely. His family and closest friends believe him to be a trickster who only involves himself in activities that give him pleasure which is how he actually wants to be seen so that he can avoid the harsh competitive nature of elite society. In comparison, way we make our judgements and cause other people to view us could be as a result of our motives to escape expectations of ourselves as well. So when we tell others we are too tired or too lazy or incapable of doing the things we know we have to do, it could just be our excuse so we can live our lives how we want.

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