Miss Prism: Character in The Importance of Being Earnest

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      Miss Prism is Cecily's governess. Prism is an endless source of pedantic bromides and cliches. She highly approves of Jack's presumed respectability and harshly criticizes his 'unfortunate' brother. Puritan though she is, Miss Prism's severe pronouncements have a way of going so far over the top that they inspire laughter. Despite her rigidity, Miss Prism seems to have a softer side. She speaks of having once written a novel whose manuscript was "lost" or "abandoned." Also, she entertains romantic feelings for Dr. Chasuble.

      Miss Prism is also intellectual, but in a literary way. She is a creative writer and a parody of "a woman with a past." She clearly had dreams of becoming a sensational romantic novelist, but, alas, she must make a living, so she is instead the jailer of Cecily and the guardian of her education and virtue. She, like the minister, makes constant moral judgments. Her favourite line, even to dead Ernest, is "As a man sows, so shall he reap." Repeating this often allows Wilde to show how meaningless and cliched religion and values have become. As an instrument of the aristocracy, Miss Prism educates Cecily to conform to the dry, meaningless intellectual pursuits designed to keep the status quo. But, like Chasuble, beneath her surface she has a hedonistic streak; often her language slips when she ventures outside her Victorian appearance. She persists in inviting Chasuble to discuss marriage, pursues him diligently, and falls into his arms at the end.

      Miss Prism is an appropriate character to uncover Jack's true history because she also is not what she seems. Wilde uses her to show what happens when dreams cannot be pursued in a society of strict social structure and stringent moral guidelines. Both she and Chasuble - with their lack of social opportunities become servants to the system, promotion its continuation.

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