The Importance of Being Earnest discussion

Hello book group and others,

I hope you have had a chance to read The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.  If not, you can get a free digital copy from Gutenberg.org.  Here are some discussion questions.  Feel free to discuss in the comments.  We also hope to have a virtual book group meeting.  If you are interested, please email lon_dir@selco.info.

Questions:

  1. Did you enjoy reading the play? Have you ever seen it performed in person or in a movie? What are the advantages and disadvantages to reading vs. viewing?
  2. Did the play make you laugh? Was there a particular incident or quote that really amused you?
  3. Why do both Jack and Algernon feel the need to invent Ernest and Bunbury? What do they gain?
  4. What does the aristocracy in Earnest value? How different (or not) are our values today than the Victorians?
  5. Lady Bracknell says, “Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.” Is this statement true? Is it ironic that Lady Bracknell marries into society and quickly becomes its most vigorous defender?
  6. What’s up with all the food fights? Why are they humorous?
  7. Why are both Gwendolyn and Cecily so committed to the name Ernest? What does it have to do with their romantic idealizations?
  8. Do names really matter? Can you think of any examples from your life where a person’s name changed your opinion of them for better or worse?
  9. What is the importance of the city/country split? What qualities do city-dwellers usually have? How about country folks? Do these stereotypes work in Earnest?
  10. What do you think of the fight between Gwendolen and Cecily when they believe they are engaged to the same man? How do they say very harsh things within the limits of polite language? Do we still do this?
  11. Algy spends the play spouting outrageous statements. Do you think he means them or is he just playing the enfant terrible? To what extent is he a stand-in for author Oscar Wilde?
  12. Both couples are engaged after very little actual interaction. To what extent does each character create an imagined vision of their partner? Given that in the Victorian era matches were often arranged by the families and courting couples given very little scope to spend time together, are these engagements significantly different?
  13. “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does.  That’s his.”  Do you agree?
  14. Wilde uses several common literary devices, including mistaken identity, unlikely coincidence and the beloved happy ending. Are we meant to consider these ironically? Or is he simply giving us what we expect?

Characters:

John Worthing, J.P.
Algernon Moncrieff
Rev. Canon Chasuble, D.D.
Merriman, Butler
Lane, Manservant
Lady Bracknell
Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax
Cecily Cardew
Miss Prism, Governess

 

1 thought on “The Importance of Being Earnest discussion

  1. Question 1. I enjoyed reading the play. I have not seen the play or the movie. Viewing the play let’s you see the emotions of the actors. Reading the play let’s you go back and read some parts that you enjoyed over again. My preference would be to view the play.

    Question 2. The play made me laugh many times. The quote I got the biggest laugh from was when Lady Bracknell said ‘ It is high time that Mr. Bunbury makes up his mind to either live or die.

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