Male Character Analysis in The Importance of Being Earnest

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Essential Characteristic of Algernon

      There are three leading male characters in The Importance of Being Earnest — Algernon, Jack & Dr. Chasuble, leaving the less important characters - Lane and Merriman, the male servants. Each of these characters are sufficiently different from one another. Though wit is a common trait in all of them, Algernon is the wittiest character in the play. In the opening act of the play we find him playing on piano, which reflects his love for music. He admits that he is not an accurate piano player, "but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte." He is also aware of the fact that in a bachelor's house servants consume too much wine, but he does not take this matter seriously. He is of the opinion that - "the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility".

      This is of course a paradoxical statement because generally the upper class is expected to set the examples of moral responsibility whereas Algernon talks contrary to the generally accepted truth. He is a character in the play who is very fond of giving twists to generally accepted facts and sayings.

      He is excessively fond of eating, he eats greedily. This habit of his greatly annoys his friend Jack. He is generally in debts, as Lady Bracknell says, "Algernon has nothing but his debts to depend upon." Towards the end of the play, when his lie is revealed, he is eating muffins in a greedy manner. Jack stops him by saying that he is eating muffins in "a perfectly heartless manner" and Algernon retorts back:

"When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me. Instead, when I am in really great trouble, I refuse everything but food and drink. At the present moment I am eating muffins because I am unhappy. Besides, I am particularly fond of muffins."

      He further says that he hates the people who are not serious about foods and accuses them to be shallow. He does not have great regards for relatives and says: "Relations are a tedious pack of people." When he
learns that Jack has come to London to propose marriage to Gwendolen, he remarks:

"I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal."

      He finds women flirting with their own husbands very indecent and scandalous and it is like "washing one's clean linen in public."

      He is a clever man. Jack's inscribed cigarette-case has aroused his curiosity and forces Jack to speak out the truth. He overhears Jack's countryside address. He is very fond of Bunburying game. He has invented a fully invalid friend called Bunbury who resides in the countryside. This invalid friend gives him a lot many opportunities to visit country as often as he pleases on the pretext of visiting the ailing friend. He has developed an interest in Cecily and his visit to Jack's countryside house is a part of his Bunburying game. He goes there in the guise of Ernest and introduces himself to everybody as Ernest. He proposes to Cecily and in no time get success as his proposal is accepted immediately. He is even ready to undergo the christening ceremony in order to please Cecily.

      Jack accuses Algernon us that he is always overdressed. Algernon accepts that accusation telling that his dandiness is matched by his well-educated background. He has provided Jack with the chance to propose marriage to Gwendolen as he takes Lady Bracknell away from Jack and Gwendolen. Later he does the same trick when he sends Jack away to change his mourning clothes in the meantime he proposes marriage to Cecily.

      The greatest quality in Algernon's character is his wit. His paradoxical comments provides us with ample opportunities to laugh. He is an expert in lending witty turns to some of the well-known sayings. For instance, instead of saying, "Marriages are made in Heaven" he says "Divorces are made in Heaven". A ban another place he says, "Three is company and two is none" instead of "two is company, three is crowd." He says that truth is never pure and simple and it should be left to the people who have not been at university. One of his witty remarks is that the proper way to behave with a woman is to make love to her if she is pretty and to someone else if she is unattractive. Jack have no other reply to his remarks except saying, "nonsense". He is a tedious talker as compared to Algernon.

Jack Worthing's Character

      Jack Worthing's personality as an individual is different from Algernon. But there are certain common points in both of them. Algernon is a carefree kind of a person whereas Jack is serious minded. Cecily says that sometimes he looks so serious that he seems to be unwell. While Miss Prism is of the opinion:

"Your guardian enjoys the best of health, and his gravity of demeanour is especially to be recommended in one so comparatively young as he is. I know no one who has a higher sense of duty of responsibility."

      At one place Algernon says that he is the most earnest-looking person he has ever known in his life. His parentage is not known. But later on we come to know that he is son of Lady Bracknell's sister and Algernon's elder brother. Miss Prism informs us that when he was a child, she had absentmindedly put him in a leather handbag and deposited it in the cloak-room of a railway station in London. Mr. Thomas Cardew found him, adopted him and gave him the name 'Worthing'. He has frankly informed Lady Bracknell about his unknown parentage. Lady Bracknell declines to accept him as a possible son-in-law because of his unknown parentage while Gwendolen finds the story of his birth to be very romantic and stirring.

      Jack finds Gwendolen to be a very charming girl and falls deeply in love with her. He proposes her and his proposal is immediately accepted. Jack has invented a younger brother called Ernest who lives in the town and on the pretext of visiting his brother he gets chance to visit Gwendolen. As we all are aware of the fact that Gwendolen is in love with the name Ernest he is ready to undergo the christening ceremony for Gwendolen's sake.

      He is a caring and responsible guardian for his ward Cecily. He stops Algernon from behaving indecently with her. He has made many witty remarks on certain occasions. For instance:

"My dear Algy, you talk exactly as if you were a dentist. It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn't a dentist."

      When he feels that Algernon is taking interest in Cecily, Jack says:

"I will take very good care you never do. She is excessively pretty, and she is only just eighteen."

      When Algernon says that if he ever gets married, he will try to forget the fact, Jack retorts:

"I have no doubt about that, dear Algy. The Divorce Court was specially invented for people, whose memories are so curiously constituted."

      His wit is reflected in his comment about Lady Bracknell: "As far as Gwendolen is concerned, we are engaged. Her mother is perfectly unbearable. Never met such a Gorgon. I don't really know what a Gorgon is like, but I am quite sure that Lady Bracknell is one. In any case, she is a monster, without being a myth."

Dr. Chasuble

      Dr. Chasuble is the third and the last important male character in The Importance of Being Earnest. He is perfectly different from the other two male characters. He is a pompous clergyman. Cecily describes him paradoxically as:

"Dr. Chasuble is the most learned man. He has never written a single book, so you can imagine how much he knows."

      He himself says: "My sermon on the meaning of the manna in the wilderness can be adapted to almost any occasion, joyful, or, distressing. I have preached it at harvest celebrations, christenings, confirmations, on days of humiliation and festal days."

      He addresses Miss Prism as "Egeria" instead her actual name "Laetitia" Prism and explains that he has made a classical allusion from the pagan authors. His wittiness is reflected in his words:

"Were I fortunate enough to be Miss Prism's pupil, I would hang upon her lips."

      And further explains this statement: "I spoke metaphorically. — My metaphor was drawn from bees. Ahem!"

      Dr. Chasuble has been flirting with Miss Prism. Miss Prism suggests him to get married to avoid his loneliness, he retorts:

"The precept as well as the practice of the Primitive Church was distinctly against matrimony."

      Dr. Chasuble is in favour of the christening of the grown-up people. He is ready to perform a christening ceremony for Jack and Algernon. When Algernon and Jack change their mind, he feels quite annoyed. He expresses his condolence to Jack in a conventional manner, when he comes to know about Ernest's death.

      He speaks: "And now, my dear Mr. Worthing, I will not intrude into a house of sorrow. I would mere beg you not to be too much bowed down by grief. What seem to us bitter trials are often blessings in disguise."

      Wilde has ridiculed the whole class of clergymen who are egotistical, conceited hypocritical. He says to Miss Prism "None of us are perfect." In everything, he is contrary to Lady Bracknell. His mind is shallow. His name denotes, the rich vestment worn by a priest celebrating Mass, it would not be injustice to say: "In an innocent and farcical way Chasuble is a flatterer; his flattery of Miss Prism has some of the shamelessness of the young men and less of their excuse. Still, he is most respectable, and Miss Prism's stroll with him will doubtless lead to much edifying talk on both sides."

      After analysing the traits of all the characters we learn that wit is a common trail that all of them share. The Importance of Being Earnest show’s Wilde's remarkable talent of constructing witty dialogue, improbable characters, situation and presenting the artificial thing in a manner that they appear to real and real as artificial.

University Questions

Elaborately discuss about the major male characters in The Importance of Being Earnest.
Write a note on the characterization of male characters in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
Write your views on the male characters in The Importance of Being Earnest and analyse them.
Write about the significance of the leading male characters in The Importance of Being Earnest.
How far are you satisfied with the portrayal of male characters in The Importance of Being Earnest? Do you find them appealing enough?
Would you say that Wilde has been successful in his portrayal of male characters in The Importance of Being Earnest?
Do you find male characters in The Importance of Being Earnest convincing?
Do you think that the male characters in The Importance of Being Earnest are distinguished from one another or are they more or less the same?

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