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discuss the ways in which Wilde presents the characters of Jack and Algernon in the opening of Act One

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Discuss the ways in which Wilde presents the characters of Jack and Algernon in the opening of Act One in 'The Importance of Being Earnest' In the opening act of 'The Importance of Being Earnest', Oscar Wilde initially introduces the reader to the two main characters, Jack and Algernon. Their behaviour and personality are a key focus within this first scene as well as revealing what kind of language they use when in conversation with each other and with the other characters. The first act overall has little action within it, but Wilde manages to keep the play interesting through the emphasis he places on specific language features. Wilde also builds up an atmosphere which is full of trivialities and also nonsense. These two main topics are referred to on a frequent basis by the characters in the play. But ultimately it's how Wilde presents the two main characters to the audience that strikes up an element of importance, and within these characters lies Wilde's true messages to certain subjects like social class, and this will prove to be crucial in order to understand the key concepts of the play. Straight away we know that Algernon is of a high social class with a wealthy background. The fact that he is in his 'Morning-Room' at the start of the scene suggests this as not many people even today would have a certain room, which could only be used in specific times of the day. ...read more.


The most significant aspect I can point out is the way Algernon begins to antagonise Jack almost immediately after he arrives. Algernon shows his dominance once more by asking several questions to Jack mainly relating to the topic of where he has been over the last few days. We get the sense that Jack is feeling pressurised by Algernon when he changes the subject from what he does in the country to 'why all the cups?' I think it also shows that Jack is hiding something and he is quite a secretive person. This then leads to finding out what Algernon's views are of aspects that are seen with in society. He firstly completely disagrees with the idea of romance and openly criticises it when he relates proposing to someone as 'business' rather than a romantic gesture. This I think also ties in with the idea of using nonsense and being absurd, because to think that proposing to someone is not a romantic thing is quite absurd it itself. The cigarette case that features in the act is also quite significant. This object brings out another side to both Algernon's and Jack's personality and this object has been deliberately included in order to show this. Algernon once more begins to assert his power over Jack when he presents the case to him. ...read more.


To illustrate the sense of nervousness, Jack's speech is broken up by the constant use of ellipsis. A perfect example of this shown to us when Jack says 'Miss Fairfax, ever since I met you I have admired you more than any girl...I have ever met since...I met you.' He also begins to repeat himself and we get this sense that Jack is losing his dignity almost and this is not helped by the fact that Gwendolen loves having a commanding stranglehold over him. The quotation from Jack is also quite mono-syllabic which is a contrast to when he was more talkative with Algernon and by making these distinctions, it allows us to see different sides to both Jack and Algernon. But ultimately, Jack and Algernon act as representatives for the upper-class and through these two characters we see exactly what Wilde's underlying messages are and also his views on an upper-class society. These views are obviously negative as he is suggesting that the upper-class live empty lives as they do not need to worry about anything because of their wealth. He also suggests that their lives are just made up of trivialities and social events and we can see this being reflected in the opening act. As Wilde is predominantly mocking the upper class, it makes the whole play a satirical one because he is criticising them through the form of humour. ?? ?? ?? ?? Mark Scott ...read more.

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