A line that I personally thought was interesting was when Algernon accuses Jack of being a Bunburyist. (Act 1) He says, “Algernon: You are one of the most advanced Bunburyists I know. Jack: What on earth do you mean? Algernon: You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up to town as often as you like. I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable.” Being a Bunburyist becomes a synonym for hypocrisy for the two characters.
In this quote, Algernon explains to Jack how both men use their alternative personas to deceive others, satisfy their own desires (of doing things against social norms), and to make themselves look moral, which turns them from mere pretenders into hypocrites. They are hypocrites as they know what is socially correct and constantly state those values throughout the play. However, their actions contradict their words as both characters deceive society and disregard the social norms that they themselves had previously stated. This idea of hypocrisy and leading a double life is constantly shown throughout the play through Jack and Algernon.
Algernon and Jack create similar deceptions of the same character (as they both have the same aim: to have the woman fall in love), but these characters are not morally parallel. When Jack fabricates his brother Ernest’s death, he shows the deception with costumes and props, and he does his best to convince the family he’s mourning. By doing this, he is acting hypocritically as he is presenting mourning in a way which is acceptable to society and to him. However, he isn’t mourning at all, he is simply acting as though he is in pain. In contrast, Algernon makes up elaborate stories that don’t really affect the truth in any serious way or try to alter anyone else’s perception of reality, for example pretending to be Earnest. Algernon is more of a charlatan than a hypocrite, the latter being more closely linked to moral values.
Jack’s imaginary brother Earnest is merely a way for him to escape his social and moral obligations but it is also something that allows Jack to appear far more moral and responsible than he actually is – thus contradicting his supposed name. Similarly, Algernon’s imaginary friend Bunbury allows Algernon to escape to the country, where he introduces himself to people differently, like the way he introduces himself to Cecily in the play, as Jack’s brother Earnest.
Either way, both characters symbolize Wilde as he creates a life for himself. Their lives are similar to Wildes’ as he too in a way lived a double life, or at least attempted to. During his college life, Wilde had decorated his room to give vent to his artistic instincts which possibly were a result of his homosexual character and to (at the time) hide his homosexual desires which were against the Victorian societal norm. Similarly, after his marriage when Wilde was attached to Boisey, Wilde lived in a double life, juggling between his relationship with this significant other as well as his family. However, Oscar was not hypocritical as he would openly express his dismissal of social norms.
Similarly, this was shown in the graphic novel we had recently read, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Bechdel’s father too lived a double life and would juggle his relationship with his family and with his other partners. He kept a facade by simply portraying himself to be an ideal man and did this by decorating the house with Gothic Revival artifacts – like Oscar Wilde.
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