Character’s Personas in a Play Jack Worthing
In the play, Jack Worthing, a member of England’s upper class, has two different personas. In the town, he goes by Ernest, but in the country, where he is placed in a position of guardianship, he goes by his given name, Jack. In Act 1, he admits to a fellow Bunburyist, Algernon, that “in order to get up to town [he] pretend[s] to have a younger brother of the name Ernest, who lives in the Albany, and gets into the most dreadful scrapes” (10). With this quote, Jack admits to having a different moral standard depending on the social setting. In the country where he is in the public eye, specifically those of Miss Prism and Cecily Cardew, he behaves with formalities. He does so because the old man who adopted Jack made him warden to his granddaughter, Cecily, meaning he must be a proper authority figure and someone worth imitating.
Moreover, Cecily’s governess, Miss Prism attentively watches Jack’s behavior and approves of his supposed integrity and uprightness, prompting him to continue his facade. In London, however, Jack is free from the people he knows, thus his responsibilities and social obligations. While inventing an alter-identity to escape the strictures of respectability is improper in itself, the main wrongdoing lies in the fact that Jack orchestrated a narrative that his “brother” died from severe chills in Paris for his personal gain. In other words, to avoid telling Gwendolen—his love interest—the truth, potentially jeopardizing their engagement, Jack got rid of Ernest and persuades his loved ones he is grieving. Oscar Wilde, intending to teach the public that the truth eventually reveals itself, makes it so Gwendolen confers with Cecily.
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Together, they both come to the realization that Jack is not who he claims to be: “a gross deception has been practiced on both of us”(43), forcing him to confess that “[he] has no brother Ernest. [he] ha[s] no brother at all. [he] never had a brother in [his] life”(43). The irony Wilde wishes his audience to notice is that while Jack changes his name to Ernest, there is little to no honesty in his actions or conduct. Moreover, by lying for trivial and vain matters, such as the substance-less love of Gwendolen, instead of being upright, as expected of Victorian men at the time, and focused on things of importance, Wilde designed the narrative so Jack would be publicly exposed for misleading those around him.