The Importance of Being Earnest – Jack Worthing

Jack Worthing, the play’s protagonist, was discovered
as an infant by the late Mr. Thomas Cardew in a handbag in the cloakroom
of a railway station in London. Jack has grown up to be a seemingly responsible
and respectable young man, a major landowner and Justice of the
Peace in Hertfordshire, where he has a country estate. In Hertfordshire,
where he is known by what he imagines to be his real name, Jack,
he is a pillar of the community. He is guardian to Mr. Cardew’s
granddaughter, Cecily, and has other duties and people who depend
on him, including servants, tenants, farmers, and the local clergyman.
For years, he has also pretended to have an irresponsible younger
brother named Ernest, whom he is always having to bail out of some
mischief. In fact, he himself is the reprobate brother Ernest. Ernest
is the name Jack goes by in London, where he really goes on these
occasions. The fictional brother is Jack’s alibi, his excuse for
disappearing from Hertfordshire and going off to London to escape
his responsibilities and indulge in exactly the sort of behavior
he pretends to disapprove of in his brother.
More than any other character in the play, Jack Worthing
represents conventional Victorian values: he wants others to think
he adheres to such notions as duty, honor, and respectability, but
he hypocritically flouts those very notions. Indeed, what Wilde
was actually satirizing through Jack was the general tolerance for
hypocrisy in conventional Victorian morality. Jack uses his alter-ego Ernest
to keep his honorable image intact. Ernest enables Jack to escape
the boundaries of his real life and act as he wouldn’t dare to under
his real identity. Ernest provides a convenient excuse and disguise
for Jack, and Jack feels no qualms about invoking Ernest whenever
necessary. Jack wants to be seen as upright and moral, but he doesn’t
care what lies he has to tell his loved ones in order to be able
to misbehave. Though Ernest has always been Jack’s unsavory alter
ego, as the play progressesJack must aspire to become Ernest, in
name if not behavior. Until he seeks to marry Gwendolen, Jack has
used Ernest as an escape from real life, but Gwendolen’s fixation on
the name Ernest obligates Jack to embrace his deception in order to
pursue the real life he desires. Jack has always managed to get what
he wants by using Ernest as his fallback, and his lie eventually threatens
to undo him. Though Jack never really gets his comeuppance, he must
scramble to reconcile his two worlds in order to get what he ultimately
desires and to fully understand who he is.