In Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, the characters create false identities and situations to avoid unwanted interactions with others. This action is referred to as “bunburying. ” Bunburying is carried throughout the play and is key to how the characters express different relationships and the solution at the end of the play. The audience is first introduced to bunburying in the first scene between Algernon and Jack. At this point in the play the audience does not know anything about Jack’s relationships with other women, except that he is in love with Gwendolen.
Algernon is determined to solve a mystery of who Cecily is and why Jack owns a personalized cigarette case from her. Jack claims, at first, that he has no idea what he is talking about but when Algernon calls Jacks bluff he brings up a common action for the play, bunburying. This first scene reveals the relationship between Algernon and Jack for the rest of the play. Their relationship is all about tug and pull and they contradict each other while creating a comedic relief for the play. When Lady Bracknell arrives in Algernon’s home she is appears very prim and proper.
She pushes Algernon to select, or at least start to search for a life partner. Algernon, typical of him, refuses to do so and uses bunburying to change the subject. This time Algernon demonstrates that he is a professional bunburyist. His friend Bunbury has poor health and Algernon uses him to retaliate against Lady Bracknell. The constant bunburying occurring in this first scene shows that the characters are truly afraid to tell the truth, and accept any consequences. Instead they lie because they feel like it would be a simpler way of escaping.
When Lady Bracknell leaves to talk to Algernon, Jack and Gwendolen alone. Gwendolen cannot resist Jack and throws herself at him when she does not know his intentions. She becomes infatuated with the name Earnest and what it represents. “It suits you perfectly. It is a divine name. It has a music of its own. It produces vibrations” (11). Gwendolen is more concerned with the idea of a unique name, like Earnest, and what it represents. It represents, to Gwendolen, what it is like to be different and successful in a world that is rather dull.
As the play continues Algernon goes to the country to see Cecily. Algernon disguises himself using the an adopted bunburyed name, Earnest. As soon as Algernon (Earnest) arrives Cecily becomes infatuated with him and the name Earnest. This is the same infatuation that Gwendolen had when Jack bunburyed and claimed to be Earnest as well. The young women of the play are obsessed with a unique name, such as Earnest, because they just want adventure in their life. The women see that adventure in their relationships with Algernon and Jack.
Algernon later confesses his love for Cecily and asks her to marry him, but Cecily claims that they have been engaged for three months already. Cecily is bunburying, even if she does not know what the term truthfully is. Her make believe engagement to her version of Earnest is her way of escaping her life without entertainment and romantic passion. “Well, ever since dear Uncle Jack first confessed to us that he had a younger brother who was very wicked and bad, you of course have formed the chief topic of conversation between myself and Miss Prism. And of course a man who is much talked about is always very attractive.
One feels there must be something in him after all. I daresay it was foolish of me, but I fell in love with you, Earnest” (32). Cecily is bunburying to herself to make her life feel more exciting. This is the same action of infatuation that Gwendolen has for Jack. There is a definite expression of boredom in the lives of Cecily and Gwendolen that Wilde added to the text. Because the women in the play bunbury to themselves the audience can have a thought that they are dimwitted with their love lives and the relationships that are supposed to be real end up being imaginary.
Jack and Algernon both try to tell Gwendolen and Cecily that their names are not Earnest, but the women shrug them off with rude answers. Gwendolen states: “Jack?… No, there is very little music in the name Jack, if any at all, indeed. It does not thrill. It produces absolutely no vibrations… I have known several Jacks, and they all, without exception, were more than usually plain. Besides, Jack is a notorious domesticity for John! And I pity any women who is married to a man called John. She would probably never be allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment’s solitude.
The only really safe name is Earnest” (11). Cecily responds in just as rude of manor: “I might respect you, Earnest, I might admire your character, but I fear that I should not be able to give you my undivided attention” (34). Gwendolen and Cecily produce their own revenant reasons why they do not want a spouse without the name Earnest. Wilde gives Jack and Algernon reason to bunbury in their relationships. If they refuse and tell the truth, without caring what Gwendolen and Cecily think, they quite possibly lose the loves of their life.
This theory is however tested when Gwendolen and Cecily reveal to each other that they are both in love with Earnest. The turning point in the play where bunburying becomes obsolete is when Gwendolen and Cecily figure out that they are both being bunburyed. Jack comes clean and says that Earnest is a make-believe person. “Gwendolen–Cecily–it is very painful for me to be forced to speak the truth. It is the first time in my life that I have ever reduced to such a painful position, and I am really quite inexperienced in doing anything of the kind.
However, I will tell you quite frankly that I have no brother Earnest. I have no brother at all. I never had a brother in my life, and I certainly have not the smallest intention of ever having one in the future” (40). In reaction to this news Gwendolen and Cecily call off their engagements. Shortly there after, in act III, Gwendolen and Cecily forgive Algernon and Jack. Wilde is demonstrating that people that still bunbury get what they want, it just might not be in the way they want it to happen.