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The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde

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Act 3, Section 1

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 3, Section 1 of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest.

The Importance of Being Earnest | Act 3, Section 1 : The Lovers Reconcile | Summary



After Gwendolen and Cecily give Jack and Algernon the silent treatment, they ask the men why they assumed the false identity of Ernest. Both men say, in different ways, they did so to be with the women, a response the women accept. Both women, however, still find the men's real names unacceptable. The men tell the women they plan to be christened as Ernest that afternoon. The couples reconcile.


In this scene the women take the lead in self-deception, although the men play willing parts. This self-deception is notable as Cecily decides the men are eating muffins as a sign of repentance. (This action is also humorous because it continues to demonstrate Algernon's greedy pleasure while eating the muffins at the end of the previous act.) Self-deception rises to a new level, however, when the women quiz the men about their actions. Wilde glorifies untruth—style over substance—as Cecily remarks that her disbelief in Algernon's answer in no way detracts from its beauty. At first glance this concept might seem another of Wilde's reversals. But is it? The moral forces in Victorian society encouraged strong convictions about what one could and could not say, especially about sex. In this case Wilde may be executing a kind of "double reversal": seeming to reverse common beliefs while actually endorsing them. As for Gwendolen, she tells Jack what to say to get back into her good graces, so his statement of love should carry no more weight than Algernon's.

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