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Word Count: 866
Masks of manners The major target of Wildes scathing social wit is the hypocritical mask of society Frequently in Victorian society its participants comported themselves in overly sincere polite ways while they harbored conversely manipulative cruel attitudes Wilde exposes this divide in scenes such as when Gwendolen and Cecily behave themselves in front of the servants or when Lady Bracknell warms to Cecily upon discovering she is rich but the play truly pivots around the word earnest Both women want to marry someone named Ernest as the name inspires absolute confidence in other words the name implies that its bearer truly is earnest honest and responsible However Jack and Algernon have lied about their names so they are not truly earnest But it also turns out that they were both inadvertently telling the truth or most of it at least The rapid flip-flopping of truths and lies of earnestness and duplicity shows how truly muddled the Victorian values of honesty and responsibility were its characters don and take off their masks of manners whenever it is convenient Dual identities A subset of the Mask of manners theme see above Wilde explores in depth what it means to have a dual identity in Victorian society This duality is most apparent in Algernon and Jacks episodes of Bunburying or their creation of an alter ego to allow their own evasion of responsibility Wilde drops some hints that Bunburying may describe homosexual liaisons or at the very least is an escape from the oppression of marriage As a closeted homosexual most of his life who was also married Wilde was well aware of the dual identities of sexual orientation But other characters go beyond this just as Algernon and Jack seemingly write their fictional personae of Bunbury and Ernest so does Cecily literally write correspondence between herself and Ernest before she has ever met him Unlike the men who are free to come and go as they please
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