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The Importance of Being Earnest Study Guide & Plot Summary

This Study Guide consists of approximately 46 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Importance of Being Earnest.
This section contains 787 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our The Importance of Being Earnest Study Guide

The Importance of Being Earnest Summary & Study Guide Description

The Importance of Being Earnest Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.

Plot Summary

The Importance of Being Earnest is a very popular play written by Oscar Wilde. In the satire, Algernon and Jack are two young members of the English gentry who pursue their romantic desires dishonestly. Both men want to adopt the name "Ernest," who is Jack's imaginary younger brother. The idea of name changing comes about when Algernon wants to marry Cecily, and Jack wants to marry Gwendolen. However, it just so happens that Cecily and Gwendolen are only interested in marrying men named Ernest!

Act I opens in Algernon's morning-room. His friend "Ernest" arrives and asks about Algernon's cousin Gwendolen. Ernest has every intention of marrying Gwendolen, despite the fact that both Algernon and Gwendolen's mother Augusta Bracknell refuse to entertain the idea. In the conversation between Algernon and his friend during, it becomes clear that "Ernest" is really named Jack and that he has invented a younger brother named Ernest to have an excuse to escape from his dreary life on the countryside. Jack was adopted at a young age by a very wealthy man named Thomas Cardew. He has spent his adult life caring for his now-deceased benefactor's daughter Cecily, whom he finds exceedingly dull. Algernon, who has expressed nothing but cynicism about life in general and, in particular, the concept of marriage, expresses great interest in this young Cecily. He wishes to meet her. However, their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Lady Bracknell and Cecily. Bracknell is displeased that Jack is present and makes every attempt to keep Gwendolen at a distance, but the young woman is clearly interested in Jack and ignores her mother. Soon, Bracknell and her nephew Algernon move to another room because Algernon agrees to give his friend time alone with Gwendolen to make the proposal. "Ernest" professes his love to Gwendolen. The proposal is a total success, with one exception: Gwendolen loves the false name "Ernest," which Jack has been calling himself. She cannot envision herself with a man by any other name. Jack resolves to have his name changed as soon as possible, and Bracknell returns to the room with Algernon. When Gwendolen tells her mother that she is married, Bracknell dismisses her nephew and daughter and discusses the matter with Jack. She is very pleased at his wealth, but she is horrified by his origins when she discovers he was found by the generous Mr. Cardew in a handbag. She requires him to find relatives immediately or forget the idea of marriage altogether.

Act II opens with Cecily and her governess, Miss Prism, in the countryside at Jack's home. Cecily is bored of her studies and encourages her to go on a walk with the local rector, Dr. Chasuble. She is eventually successful, and Algernon shows up, pretending to be Jack's younger brother Ernest, whom Cecily has heard a great deal of but never met. Algernon is smitten with her, and he asks her to marry him, to which she agrees. Jack returns home and finds Algernon pretending to be his brother. He attempts to send Algernon away immediately, but Algernon instead remains and continues speaking to Cecily, who makes it clear that, like Gwendolen, she cannot love or marry a man by any other name than Ernest. Algernon quickly resolves to have his name changed as well. Subsequently, he goes to Dr. Chasuble to become "Ernest." While Cecily is on her own in the garden, Gwendolen appears, looking for Ernest. Confusion breaks out when they both assume they have become engaged to the same man, until Algernon and Jack both return. They are confronted by the women, who leave them in the garden alone to dwell on their dishonesty.

In Act III, the four reunite, and the women forgive them for their lies. But, they explain that they cannot marry men without the name of Ernest. Both men confess to agreeing to have their names changed. They begin arguing when they decide that they cannot both be called Ernest. Bracknell appears, furious at her daughter's escape, and meets Cecily. When she discovers she is very wealthy, she immediately approves of the bankrupt Algernon's marriage to her, but Jack refuses to allow it unless he is allowed to marry Gwendolen. Augusta refuses him in turn. Miss Prism returns, and she is stunned to see the elder woman. It turns out that Prism once lost Bracknell's nephew a long time ago, and the baby was never again found. Jack realizes he might be exactly this baby, and the fact is confirmed when he reproduces Prism's handbag, being the one he was found in. The play ends with Jack discovering he truly is Algernon's older brother and that his true name is, in fact, Ernest.

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This section contains 787 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our The Importance of Being Earnest Study Guide
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