Algernon sees marriage as an undesirable burden in life. He is doubtful about the true happiness and love that can come with marriage and therefore has his concerns about living the rest of his life in an unhealthy relationship. In Act I, as Algernon is talking to his butler Lane, Lane says “I often observed that in married households the champagne is rarely of a first rate brand,” and Algernon responds by saying “is marriage so demoralizing as that?” (Wilde, 1830) While Algernon’s preference of highly rated wine represents his happiness, he feels that his happiness will be negatively affected if he is married. When Jack, Algernon’s friend, arrives at Algernon’s flat, Jack expresses his desire to propose to Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen. Algernon replies with disgust saying “I thought you had come up for pleasure?… I call that business.” (Wilde, 1831) Jack and Algernon’s contrasting views on marriage are shown here, as Jack regards getting married a romantic occasion while Algernon considers marriage a requirement to maintain a respectable name among the social classes of London. Later in their conversation, Algernon emphasizes the burden he believes comes with marriage when Jack calls Algernon unromantic. Algernon responds by telling him that once you are married “then the excitement is all over” and that “divorces are made in Heaven.” (Wilde, 1831) This shows Algernon’s reluctance to be married due to his potential unhappiness, and his comparison between divorce and heaven conveys how being married is the complete opposite happiness, and instead is portrayed as unwanted or dull. When Algernon’s aunt, Lady Bracknell, arrives at his flat, she tells him about one of her newly widowed friends, Lady Harbury. Lady Bracknell says, “I hadn’t been there since her poor husband’s death… she looks quite twenty years younger.” (Wilde, 1835) Lady Bracknell implies that Lady Harbury’s younger appearance is contributed to the burden of marriage she no longer has to keep, and thus, she can enjoy her life more freely. It appears that most people in the upper class share this sentiment, as they married for wealth, power, and status, not love.
In the upper echelon of society in London, marriage is not founded by the love between two people, but by the social status of the spouses. Jack faces an obstacle related to this when he attempts to propose to Gwendolen. Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen’s mother, believes a woman should marry only to rise the social ladder. When Jack tells Lady Bracknell of his plan to marry Gwendolen, she quickly informs him that he is “not down on [her] list of eligible young men” to marry Gwendolen, however, she would be “ready to enter [Jack’s] name should [his] answers be what a really affectionate mother requires.” (Wilde, 1839) Lady Bracknell begins to interrogate Jack about his financial and family background, implying that if the questions are not answered to her liking, Jack will be denied marriage to Gwendolen. Lady Bracknell is not interested in her daughter’s happiness or pursuit of love, but only what will benefit Gwendolen and the Bracknell family socially. Her belief of marriage to have a higher standing in society contradicts Jack’s purpose for proposing to Gwendolen, which originates from his genuine love for her.
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