Analysis of Gwendolen in Oscar Wilde's'THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST'

Essay by GeorgiamarieHigh School, 11th gradeA, July 2005

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In Victorian times the custom of marriage was that 'an engagement should come upon a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It [was] hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself.' (Lady Bracknell, Act 1, pg 308) It easy to see then, that marrying for love was unheard of, and instead the whole matter was predominantly a business arrangement. Girls were expected to marry well, meaning to a wealthy and socially respected man. Lady Bracknell originally refuses her blessing to Jack because he has no 'connections' and lives on the 'unfashionable side' of Belgrave Square. Gwendolen does not conform to the expectations placed upon her by society of the time. She is very forward, blunt and unreserved. This is particularly evident in the proposal scene where she says things such as 'I think it only fair to tell you quite frankly before-hand that I am fully determined to accept you'.

(Act 1, pg 307)

There is no love involved in marriage, for Gwendolen in fact she has a preference for a husband with the name of Ernest. Gwendolen believes that the success of a couple's marriage depends entirely on the name of the husband. In fact she 'pit[ies] any woman who is married to a man called John. She would probably never be allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment's solitude.' (Act 1, pg 307) This shows how she trivialises what we would consider important issues.

Gwendolen is superficial and idealistic. She falls in love with name 'Ernest', not with an actual person or personality. She is also extremely shallow and vacuous, as is evident from the line '...and my ideal has always been to marry someone of the name of...