The Way of the World

The Way of the World

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The Way of the World Act 1, Scene 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Having witnessed the exchange between Betty and the messenger, Mirabell and Fainall begin gossiping about Sir Wilfull. In particular, they criticize his plan to better himself by traveling abroad. During this conversation, Mirabell learns that Sir Wilfull is related to Mrs. Fainall and Millamant—his mother is Wishfort’s sister. Fainall remarks that if Mirabell were to marry Millamant, then he, too, would be related to Sir Wilfull. If given a choice between being related to Wilfull or being his friend, Mirabell says that he would rather be related.
The men look down on Sir Wilfull’s decision to travel for his education because they consider him too old to undertake the “continental tour” of Europe, which was typically undertaken by men who were coming-of-age. Mirabell’s sentiment reflects the adage, “You can choose your friends but not your family.” At the same time, this may be Mirabell’s way of indirectly saying that he’d prefer to be married to Millamant, since that is what would make Wilfull his relative.
Themes
Wits and Fools Theme Icon
Fainall describes Sir Wilfull as an altogether lovable and harmless fool, with a penchant for drunkenness. Mirabell calls him “a fool with a good memory,” whose lack of wit makes him exceptionally good-natured. According to Mirabell, Wilfull is unable to tell when he is the butt of the joke. Just then, Sir Wilfull’s half-brother, Witwoud, enters the room.
The way in which the men describe Sir Wilfull emphasizes his lack of wit, thereby emphasizing their own wit and reaffirming their sense of superiority. They also remark on Sir Wilfull’s inability to understand wit as a problem of translation: he doesn’t understand London’s culture.
Themes
Wits and Fools Theme Icon