Gwendolen in The Importance of being Earnest

Publié le par Rania

 I will try to post some of the essays I wrote during the last Academic  year. I just hope that you will find them of some intrest. I will of course tell you if the essay posted has been corrected by a teacher or not. My essays are simple attempts to discuss certain points about certain literary works, nothing more.  I'm just a first year student.

This essay deals with the different sides of Gwendolen in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of being Earnest. It has  been corrected by my teacher.
. Please send me your comments.


Characters in The Importance of Being Earnest do not fit in moulds. Many of their traits are quite paradoxical which makes labeling them a difficult task. Gwendolen, for example is very unpredictable. In fact, when focusing on the proposal scene and with certain references to her following appearances, one can discover that Gwendolen’s character is made of three different traits: the dandy, the conformist, and the comic.


Many clues in the play prove that Gwendolen is a dandy. In fact, she appears in the play as a conceited young woman, proud of her rigid education and her sensational writing skills. She also believes deeply in her intelligence. “I am never wrong” she says to Jack, and she thinks greatly of her ability of guessing people’s nature. Flaunting such characteristics is revolutionary, and it proves that Gwendolen is really a dandy, a feminine and a feminist one. In fact, Gwendolen flaunts her beauty and elegance only once: » I am always smart she says, and that is in the beginning of the play. Her following narcissistic comments are all about her intelligence. She tries to break the image of women being just pretty faces, as a dandy would do. Moreover, Gwendolen is a libertine. She obviously had many romantic adventures. She says to her fiancé: I have known several Jacks, and they all were more than usually plain. She kisses him in public and makes several remarks bearing sexual connotations like: “I intend to develop in many directions. Being a libertine at a period where women were supposed to maintain a high moral tone on all subjects proves this iconoclastic side of Gwendolen. Gwendolen’s conceit, her feminism, and her libertarian attitude towards love, rank her as a dandy, but she has another extremely opposite side.


Gwendolen is a tough conformist for three main reasons. First, she believes in class stratification. This could be seen in the argument she had with Cecily. In fact, she attacks Cecily twice trying to make her feel socially inferior to her, saying for example, when her guest offers her a cake, “Cake is rarely seen at the best houses nowdays”. Such remarks proves Gwendolen’s conformity to social norms, for Victorians still paid attention to class stratification and based on them their judgments of people’s nature. Besides Gwendolen’s romantic tendencies rank her as a conformist. All her dreams are summed up in one word marriage. She talks about it with her girlfriends and writes about it in her diary. Such tendencies are a result of blindly following society’s expectations and commandments; a young woman’s future according to Victorians is marriage. Third, the ideal that Gwendolen has always had of marrying someone of the name of Ernest places her in the position of a conformist. In fact, the name Ernest is homophonous with the adjective “earnest” which means very serious is a value cherished by the Victorians. It meant maintaining a high level of respectfulness and an apparent sense of duty in public.  Gwendolen is extremely attached to these social conventions. She insists until the end that her fiancé should have no other name but Ernest because this name inspires her absolute confidence. Gwendolen’s belief in class stratification, her conventional views about romance, and her attachment to values hypocritically cherished by her society, prove her being a conformist.


Gwendolen is also a comic character. What makes her comic is her constant shifting between being a conformist and being a rebel. This shifting between two extremely opposite attitudes mirrors the character’s immaturity. Gwendolen does not know the outside world well enough to decide which attitude to adopt. This lack of “elasticity” in the character’s relationship with the outside world is what makes a character comic, according to Bergson’s definition of the comic in his paper Laughter. As stated by the same philosopher “…a comic character is generally comic in proportion to his ignorance of himself”, and Gwendolen is completely unaware of her immaturity. In fact, she never abandons her peremptory tone. Behaving as a conformist or a rebel, she always talks as if she were sure of everything.


Gwendolen’s character has many sides and most of them are paradoxical. Her striking change of behavior is the paragon of the absurdities cherished by the Victorians. Wilde’s using a character to criticize his society is not exclusive to the character of Gwendolen in this play, all the other characters are also means for him to prove the failure of the Victorian values.

Publié dans Literary Essays

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