The Importance of Being Earnest


Oscar Wilde

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Cash, Class, and Character Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Art of Deception: Fact v. Fiction Theme Icon
The Pursuit of Marriage Theme Icon
Cash, Class, and Character Theme Icon
Name and Identity Theme Icon
Hypocrisy, Folly, and Victorian Morality Theme Icon
Men and Women in Love Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Importance of Being Earnest, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Cash, Class, and Character Theme Icon

The Victorian society in which Wilde lived was concerned with wealth, family status, and moral character, especially when it came to marriage. Lady Bracknell’s interrogation of Jack’s proposal to marry Gwendolen demonstrates the three “Cs”—cash, class, and character. First she asks him about his finances and then his family relations, a measure of his class. That Jack has none—no family relations, or family name, reflects poorly on his character. Upon finding that Jack has no “relations” she exclaims, “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune…to lose both seems like carelessness,” (as if were Jack’s fault for being an orphan.)

In the Victorian world one’s name was the measure of one’s social capital, so the fact that Jack doesn’t have any family is an insurmountable obstacle to his marrying Gwendolen, a daughter of the titled gentry. According to Lady Bracknell’s marriage standards, Jack has the cash, but he doesn’t have the class, so his character comes into question. (Although of all three “Cs,” character is probably the least important of Lady Bracknell’s criteria, since income and family take precedence in her line of questioning over Jack’s actual intentions for her daughter, which might more accurately reflect the content of his character).

Nonetheless, Lady Bracknell’s scrutiny of Jack’s socioeconomic status is reflective of the Victorian world in which she was created. Her evaluation of cash, class, and character is one that Wilde interrogates throughout The Importance of Being Earnest, especially through the relations between classes. In Act I Algernon comments to Lane that the lower classes should set a “good example” of “moral responsibility” for the upper classes, otherwise they are of little “use.” Algernon’s statement is odd precisely because he seems more concerned with the morality of his servants than with his own moral compass. Meanwhile he continues to lead a deceptive and excessive lifestyle, never bothering to question the ethical implications of such a life. Algernon’s fixation on the morality of his subordinates actually reveals the shortsighted outlook of the aristocratic class. This class scrutinizes the behavior of others so much that it fails to examine its own flaws and foibles. By pointing attention to Algernon’s lack of self-examination, Wilde further undermines the Victorians’ criteria for character by suggesting that it is inherently faulty.

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Cash, Class, and Character ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Cash, Class, and Character appears in each scene of The Importance of Being Earnest. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Cash, Class, and Character Quotes in The Importance of Being Earnest

Below you will find the important quotes in The Importance of Being Earnest related to the theme of Cash, Class, and Character.
Act 1, Part 1 Quotes

Lane’s views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.”

Related Characters: Algernon Moncrieff (speaker), Lane
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, Part 2 Quotes

To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune…to lose both seems like carelessness.

Related Characters: Lady Bracknell (speaker), Jack
Related Symbols: Orphans and Wards
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter—a girl brought up with the utmost care—to marry into a cloak-room and form an alliance with a parcel.

Related Characters: Lady Bracknell (speaker), Jack, Gwendolen Fairfax, Lord Bracknell
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Part 1 Quotes

[Christening is], I regret to say, one of the Rector's most constant duties in this parish. I have often spoken to the poorer classes on the subject. But they don't seem to know what thrift is.

Related Characters: Miss Prism (speaker), Dr. Chasuble
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Part 2 Quotes

My duty as a gentleman has never interfered with my pleasures in the smallest degree.

Related Characters: Algernon Moncrieff (speaker)
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Part 1 Quotes

Your Christian names are still an insuperable barrier. That is all!

Related Characters: Gwendolen Fairfax (speaker), Cecily Cardew (speaker), Jack, Algernon Moncrieff
Related Symbols: Ernest
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Worthing, is Miss Cardew at all connected with any of the larger railway stations in London? I merely desire information. Until yesterday I had no idea that there were any families or persons whose origin was a Terminus.

Related Characters: Lady Bracknell (speaker), Jack, Cecily Cardew
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis: