Themes of love and romanceThere are three pairs of lovers in the Importance of Being Earnest: the love-affair of Jack Worthing and Gwendolen Fairfax, that of Algernon and Cecily Cardew, and on a lesser level, that of Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble. There is no major obstacle in the way of their love and marriage, except that both Gwendolen and Cecily have fallen in love with men called Earnest. This gives rise to numerous comic situations in the play with both the girls disputing at one time, that it is the same Earnest who has proposed to them. As for Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble, they are both celibates who are willing to enter into matrimony at a later stage of their lives.
Jack, the guardian of Cecily in the countryside, assumes the name of Earnest a fictitious and reckless younger brother whose wild and wicked ways often take him to London, where he gets an opportunity to court Gwendolen, the only daughter of Lady Bracknell, a member of British aristocracy. Gwendolen has fallen in love with Jack simply because his name is Earnest, a name that ‘inspires confidence’in her. She cannot think of marrying a person with some other name.
In much the same way, Cecily has fascination for the name of Earnest even before she has met her guardian. Jack’s fictitious younger brother, Earnest, who lives a dissolute life in London is the perpetual cause of anxiety to her dear uncle Jack. She has discussed his wicked ways with her governess, Miss Prism, and fallen in love with him. She has even got engaged to him on her own, bought an engagement ring in his name, a bangle with a lover’s knot which she promises to wear always, and written several letters on his behalf to herself. She has even broken off the engagement once on account of an imaginary lover’s tiff. Algernon asks her whether she could not have loved him, if his name had been different, and Cecily replies in the negative. However, the tangle is resolved when both the men express their resolve to be christened as Earnest and Gwendolen praises their spirit of sacrifice.
Now the only obstacle on their way is the difficulty in obtaining the approval of Lady Bracknell to their respective marriages. She objects to Jack’s marriage to her only daughter Gwendolen on account of his unknown parentage. But when the mystery of Jack’s birth is revealed, he is discovered to be Algernon’s elder brother and Lady Bracknell’s nephew. Now there is no obstacle for Jack in the way of his being united with Gwendolen. Cecily, however, who is passionately in love with Algernon, has to face a cross examination of Lady Bracknell for her marriage to Algernon. Lady Bracknell suddenly finds Cecily charming and pretty when Jack tells her that her grandfather has left a fortune for her in the funds.
There is, however no such obstacle in the way of the spinster Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess, and the Rector, Dr. Chasuble. They are both attracted to each other; only their social inhibitions present them from tying the knot.
Thus the play ends with the fulfillment of the three love-affairs after the temporary obstacles on the way of the lovers whose comic behavior, witty talks and trivialities remind one of the Restoration comedies of manners.