The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde: Summary

At the beginning of the play a wealthy Algernon (Algy) is waiting for his aunt, Lady Bracknell and her daughter Gwendolen to visit him in his flat in London. Before they arrive, Jack Worthing, Algy's friend arrives. Jack calls himself 'Earnest' and Algy is curious about it. Jack clarifies that his real name is Jack Worthing and has a daughter named Cecily.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

He further states that he is going to propose Gwendolen. He loves being called Earnest. Algy too confesses that he visits his imaginary friend Bunbury whenever he needs a break from the hectic life of the town. He, too, employs deception when it is convenient. 

When Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen arrive, Algy explains that he cannot attain the reception of lady Bracknell since he has to visit his friend Bunbury. Algy distracts Lady Bracknell in another room, at the same time, Jack proposes Gwendolen. But, she says she loves to marry a man whose name is Earnest because for her it sounds so aristocratic. However, she accepts his proposal and later on wants to rechristen Earnest. But, Lady Bracknell is not happy with the proposal and interrogates Jack about his social status. When she finds him lacking same social status, she rejects the engagement. While leaving, she tells Jack to find some acceptable parents.  When Gwendolen asks for his country's address, Algy secretly writes it down on his shirt cuff. He is curious about Cecily and decides to go "bunburying" in the country.

In the country of Jack, Cecily is being taught by Miss Prism. She praises Jack for being responsible, but shuns his brother, Earnest for being wicked. When Canon, the local vicar, takes Miss Prism for romance, Algy appears pretending to be Earnest, Jack's wicked brother. Algy has a plan to stay for a week to know more about Cecily, but Jack returns early in mourning clothes claiming that his brother Ernest has died in Paris. He is shocked to find Algy there posing as Ernest. Jack’s plan to send Algy back to London fails. Algy in the same day proposes Cecily. From her diary, it is clear that Cecily, too, wants to marry someone named Earnest. Algy too needs to rechristen like that of Jack.

Gwendolen arrives in the country of Jack and meets Cecily. In the course of their talk, they both mention that they are engaged to Earnest Worthing. The situation becomes tense and a battle follows. Jack and Algernon arrive, and, in an attempt to solve out the Ernest problem, they alienate both women. The two men follow, explaining that they are going to be rechristened Ernest, and the women agree to stay engaged.

Lady Bracknell gives permission to Algy to engage with Cecily after discovering the extent of Cecily's fortune, however, Jack's parentage is still a problem in getting Gwendolen. Jack tells Lady Bracknell that he will not agree to Cecily's engagement until she is of age (35) unless he can marry Gwendolen. Dr. Chasuble announces for the christenings but Jack explains it is of no use now. The minister states that he will return to the church where Miss Prism is waiting to see him.

When Lady Bracknell hears the name Prism she immediately calls for Prism and reveals her as the governess who lost Lady Bracknell's nephew 28 years earlier on a walk with the baby carriage. She inquires about the boy. Miss Prism explains that in a moment of distraction she placed the baby in her handbag and left him in Victoria Station, confusing him with her three-volume novel, which was placed in the baby carriage. After Jack asks for details, he quickly runs to his room and comes back with the handbag. Miss Prism identifies it, and Lady Bracknell reveals that Jack is Algernon's older brother, son of Ernest John Moncrieff, who died years ago in India. Jack now truly is earnest, and Algernon/Cecily, Jack/Gwendolen, and Chasuble/Prism fall into each other's arms as Jack realizes the importance of being earnest.

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