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The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde

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Act 2, Section 5

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 2, Section 5 of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest.

The Importance of Being Earnest | Act 2, Section 5 : Cecily and Gwendolen Meet | Summary



Cecily is alone for only a moment before Merriman announces Miss Fairfax's arrival. Gwendolen enters, and the two women get along well at first. When Gwendolen asks about Cecily's family, however, she learns Cecily has no living relatives and lives there as "Mr. Worthing's ward." The relationship between Cecily and her guardian arouses Gwendolen's suspicions. The women learn that both are engaged to Mr. Ernest Worthing and begin to argue over who has the better claim to Ernest. The fight cools slightly while Merriman serves tea, but it resumes once he leaves. They reach a state of open hostility, and Cecily tries to dismiss Gwendolen when Jack enters.

Jack denies he is engaged to Cecily and claims he is engaged to Gwendolen. In the process, however, he is revealed as Jack, rather than Ernest. Algernon enters. Algernon denies he is engaged to Gwendolen and claims he is engaged to Cecily. He is revealed as Algernon, rather than Ernest. Astounded by these revelations, the women reconcile. Gwendolen quizzes Jack on the location of his brother Ernest since both women are apparently engaged to him. Jack admits he has no brother. The women storm off into the house. Jack and Algernon eat the food set out for tea and argue about what will happen next.


Cecily and Gwendolen's battle over tea shows both their anger and their well-taught social behavior. Before Merriman serves tea, the two women have already denounced each other's class and character. Yet when tea is served, they become quite polite again, at least superficially. Cecily, however, continues the war under the veil of politeness, showing how social conventions often mask hostility. Social conventions are also tested by something surprisingly realistic: Gwendolen is right to be concerned about Cecily's being Jack's ward: she is young, attractive, unattached, rich, and living in the same house as Jack.

For some time Jack's lies about Ernest have served him well, allowing him to enjoy himself. Now, however, his lies trap him as the women confront him and Algernon with the contradictory stories.

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