"The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde: Algernon Montcrieff - A Character Analysis

Essay by ClenUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, November 2006

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It is a well known phenomenon that many authors' lives are reflected through a character in their work. In Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, the double life, or double identity, can be seen as the central metaphor in the play, epitomized in Algernon's creation of "Bunbury" or "Bunburying". As this term is the only fictitious word employed throughout the text, it is crucial to critically analyze not only its use and implications, but more importantly, the character who coins the term; Algernon Moncrieff. In addition, it is also significant to note the marked differences between Algernon and Jack's perceptions of the notion of bunburying, as it further develops Algernon's character within the text. But perhaps the single most significant characteristic of Algernon is that his idea of bunburying can be seen as a metaphor within itself for Wilde's own double life, both as a married upper class socialite in Victorian England, and as closet homosexual.

In this sense, it can truly be argued that, "Wilde's work and his self were always inseparable - to others, and to him" (Daniel, 63).

The first instance in which the reader is introduced to, and given and explanation of the notion of Bunburying reveals a number of noteworthy aspects about Algernon, the character who coins the term and is the first to employ the word within the text. As defined by Algernon, Bunburying is the art of producing and intricate deception that allows a character to evade responsibility and misbehave while seeming to maintain a high Victorian standard of duty and responsibility. According to Daniel, "Bunburying is quite simply what Shakespeare would call a lie direct" (Daniel, 59). Since "Bunbury is not a real person, but the made-up story of a sickly old friend who has Algernon perpetually on call whenever Algernon...