The Importance of Being Earnest


Oscar Wilde

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Tea Service Symbol Analysis

Tea Service Symbol Icon
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 II Cecily and Gwendolen thinly veil their antagonism towards each other during a tea service, a delicate demonstration of grace and manners. Gwendolen makes digs at Cecily’s lack of taste by refusing her offer of sugar and cake on account that such cuisine is out of date in London. Cecily masks her displeasure under the pretense of graciousness, offering Gwendolen healthy helpings of cake and sugar, as a good hostess should. Despite this appearance of composure, each woman’s jealousies are reaching their boiling points. From slicing cake to sipping tea, the tea service is a means by which the characters negotiate tense social situations under the pretense of civility.
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Tea Service Symbol Timeline in The Importance of Being Earnest

The timeline below shows where the symbol Tea Service appears in The Importance of Being Earnest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Part 1
The Pursuit of Marriage Theme Icon
...from an adjoining room offstage while his butler Lane sets the parlor on stage for tea. While Algernon absentmindedly munches on cucumber sandwiches, prepared for Aunt Augusta (Lady Bracknell) and cousin... (full context)
The Pursuit of Marriage Theme Icon
Cash, Class, and Character Theme Icon
...Algernon’s friend, Mr. Ernest Worthing (Jack) who has been away in the country. Seeing the tea service, Jack asks Algernon whom he is expecting. Upon learning that Algernon is waiting his... (full context)
The Pursuit of Marriage Theme Icon
Hypocrisy, Folly, and Victorian Morality Theme Icon
Jack attempts to take one of the cucumber sandwiches set out for tea, but Algernon insists that they are reserved for Lady Bracknell, and then eats one himself.... (full context)
Act 2, Part 2
Cash, Class, and Character Theme Icon
...both engaged to “Ernest,” Cecily and Gwendolen’s jealousies play out over the course of a tea service. Gwendolen refuses Cecily’s offer of sugar and cake, while making snide remarks about Cecily’s... (full context)
The Art of Deception: Fact v. Fiction Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Marriage Theme Icon
Name and Identity Theme Icon
Men and Women in Love Theme Icon
...such a name change could be dangerous. Meanwhile, the two men squabble over muffins and teacake, until the curtain drops. (full context)