The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde

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Act 2, Section 3

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 2, Section 3 of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest.

The Importance of Being Earnest | Act 2, Section 3 : The "Dead" Brother | Summary



Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble return, talking about marriage. Miss Prism argues unmarried men need to realize they present a temptation to women. Jack enters, dressed in mourning clothes. When Dr. Chasuble asks why, Jack says his brother Ernest has died. After explaining how Ernest died, Jack asks Dr. Chasuble if he would christen him, and they make arrangements for Jack to be christened. Cecily reenters. She tells Jack his brother Ernest is in the dining room. Jack denies he has a brother. Cecily goes back into the house and returns a moment later holding hands with Algernon. Algernon, playing the role of Ernest, apologizes. Jack refuses to shake his hand. Cecily thinks it is because he is angry with "Ernest," and the others leave the "brothers" alone to make up.


When Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble enter, Miss Prism underscores her failings as a teacher by her comments on the primitive church. Her argument that it died out because of its attitudes on marriage, rather than evolving and flourishing as it clearly did, shows how she bends history to teach the lesson she wants to teach. In this case she tries to convince Dr. Chasuble to marry because she wants him to marry her. When she says an unmarried man is a "permanent public temptation" and might lead "weaker vessels astray," she hints as broadly as she can that she desires him.

In the main plot the first major reversal—or obstacle—occurs. Jack has been benefiting from his story about a brother. Now he has to pay the price for that story and live in a world in which he has a brother. In other words, having created a new reality he must face the consequences of his actions.

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