The Importance of Being Earnest


Oscar Wilde

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The Importance of Being Earnest Symbols

Town and Country

In The Importance of Being Earnest one’s residence is a key signifier of one’s social standing and sophistication. Lady Bracknell’s keen interest in Jack’s address exemplifies this alignment between class, fashion, and residence. She finds… (read full symbol analysis)


Bunbury is a fictional invalid that Algernon makes up so that he has a ready excuse whenever he wishes to get out of any social commitment, particularly when he would like to escape to the… (read full symbol analysis)


Similar to Bunbury, Ernest represents deception, fiction, and escapism, but also idealism. While Algernon and Jack attempt to masquerade as the real Ernest, he is just as fictional as Algernon’s Bunbury. Similarly Jack uses… (read full symbol analysis)

Tea Service

The Importance of Being Earnest depicts several pivotal scenes that revolve around tea. While these moments might seem mundane, they are actually carefully crafted scenes in which the characters negotiate tricky scenarios. In Act… (read full symbol analysis)


Food symbolizes excess, or overindulgence. For instance, Algernon cannot stop eating cucumber sandwiches, or muffins when they are put in front of him, suggesting that his appetites are just as excessive as his eccentric… (read full symbol analysis)

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The Dandy

The dandy, or fop, was a figure popularized by Wilde. In Wilde’s world, the dandy is a man who pays particular attention to his appearance, dress, and lifestyle, almost to the point of excess… (read full symbol analysis)

Orphans and Wards

Both Jack and Cecily are orphans. Jack’s lack of family relations makes it difficult for him to marry Gwendolen and settle into a traditional family arrangement. While Cecily’s ancestry is officially documented in books… (read full symbol analysis)


Jack and Algernon each arrange a christening with Dr. Chasuble so that they can change their names to “Ernest.” The eager willingness of these characters to change their names symbolize the fluid nature of identity… (read full symbol analysis)

Jack’s Mourning Clothes

Jack’s extravagant mourning attire for a brother who is nonexistent and not even dead represents the extravagance of the dandy as well as duplicity. (read full symbol analysis)


Normally diaries document real life events, but diaries In the Importance of Being Earnest tend to document fictions. Cecily writes about her fictional engagement to “Ernest” in her diary, showing it to be… (read full symbol analysis)

Cecily’s Love Letters

Cecily writes loves letters between her self and “Ernest.” This is another example of Cecily’s penchant for inventing stories, thereby serving as another symbol of imagination and fiction making. (read full symbol analysis)

Miss Prism’s Three-volume-novel

Miss Prism’s three-volume-novel symbolizes the engrossing nature of fiction and the loss of one’s sense of reality. Miss Prism mentions to Cecily in Act II that she once wrote a “three-volume-novel.” At the end of… (read full symbol analysis)

Jack’s Handbag

The handbag in which Jack was found as a baby is a symbol for the comedy of errors. Jack’s inadvertent abandonment in a place as obscure and ridiculous as a handbag at a train station… (read full symbol analysis)

Jack’s Cigarette Case

Because Jack’s cigarette case reveals his dual identity as “Ernest” in town and “Jack” in the country it represents his double life. (read full symbol analysis)

Jack’s Business Card

In his cigarette case Jack stores business cards with his pseudonym and address in London printed on them. Algernon later uses the card to verify his identity to Cecily. The business card is thus… (read full symbol analysis)

The Coatroom at Victoria Station and The Brighton Line

The coatroom at Victoria Station is a symbol for Jack’s lack of family “relations” and unknown origins. The Brighton Line is Wilde’s play on the notion of a family bloodline. Instead of having a lineage… (read full symbol analysis)

The Army List

The Army List is a listing of English army generals. It symbolizes name and identity because Jack uncovers his real name and his origins through this source. (read full symbol analysis)