Explore how Wilde exploits the contrasts between the town and the country in The Importance of Being Earnest. You must relate your discussion to relevant contextual factors.

This is an essay plan:

Introduction –

  • City shown as a place of partying and socialising.
  • Country is a place of responsibility and seclusion. Gwendolen feels that what lacks is ‘good taste in the more remote country districts’.
  • But the way in which all Victorians behave is the same, all focus on the same trivial things.


Paragraph 1 (rural country) –

  • Cecily brought up in the remote country, which the audience would expect to be rural and a place for people to escape the busy city life.
  • Wilde does not focus on the beauty and greenery of the country in contrast to the city.
  • Rather the only pastoral imagery we get is from the watering of the roses.
  • Algy refers to Cecily as a ‘pink rose’, so this use of the roses isn’t even for rural imagery, rather it is there to play a part in Cecily’s love fantasies.
  • The lines of differentiation between the country and city are blurred, both Algys city house and Jacks country home share the same overly fancy style.


Paragraph 2 (city and country behaviour is the same) –

  • When Gwendolen and Cecily first meet ‘it is obvious that [their] social spheres have been widely different’. They establish the differences between themselves as a cause of their place of upbringing.
  • In reality they are the same.
  • In Act II during the tea scene both girls show the same conventional attitudes as they throw sharp remarks to one another in their quarrel, however in the presence of the Merriman they restore ‘a restraining influence’.
  • Victorians believed that the upper classes had the responsibility of being role models to the lower classes.
  • All about appearance.
  • Wilde shows that although Victorians believe they are different, in reality they all hold the same beliefs and conventional ways.


Paragraph 3 (characters adopt new personas depending on setting) –

  • However, the way that the characters behave shows some differentiation between the city and country.
  • Jack uses Earnest as an alter identity to be a careless troublemaker in the city. In the country when he is Jack, he is a caring a responsible guardian to Cecily.
  • Algy also inherits a new identity through Earnest. In the country he uses Earnest to adopt this character of love and passion as seen through his relationship with Cecily. In the city when he is Algy, he is this suave socialite.
  • The characters both use the city to adopt a socialite character.
  • They lead a double life.
  • Algernon – “I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may go down to the country whenever I choose”.
  • Wilde saying that although in reality the morals and beliefs of people who live in both the city and country are the same, it is the way that they act and adopt new characters which differentiates the two settings.


Conclusion –

  • The contrast between the two is shown through the persona characters adopt.
  • But when looking at behaviour and beliefs it is all the same.
  • Victorians are all the same.



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