The balance of the piece is astounding. Characters developing, setting construction and plot unfolding, all of which present the perfect juxtapositions of two ends of everything: affluence and scarcity, wittiness and dullness, embrace and hostility, and of course, earnest and frivolity.
The characters development is both humorous and meaningful. Algernon, a blue-blooded, overeducated young man with a fancy name living in a manor in London will be at last revealed to be “have only his debts to depend on”. Jack, an orphan, a country boy and a social climber with an ordinary name will be at last revealed to be the warden of hundred of thousands inheritance and the true prince of Earnest. Gwendolen, again, a girl with a fancy name with a fancy family background is not in the least as much as intelligent as Cecily, again, a girl with an ordinary name who inherits hundred of thousands after losing both of her parents in childhood. The vivid irony of a character appears to be someone but turn out to be the opposite of someone is the amusing theme of the play, and such amusement isn’t only reverberating in characters development.
The setting of the play also oozes symmetry and irony. At the first part of the play, Jack defies Algernon by eating all his cucumber sandwiches and by successfully proposing to Gwendolen. At the second part of the play, Algernon disregards Jack’s forbiddance by successfully proposing to Cecily after he eats up Jack’s muffins. The correspondence of these two scene manifests the determination of a social climber and the snobbery of an elite. The juxtaposition of London and country setting reflects the shallowness of class division as well. Lady Bracknell, who lives in London and who despises people who live in the country has hardly deign to visit, but when she does, she proves herself to be a true two-faced hypocrite without any social grace. And this truth is particularly conspicuous next to the comparison of humble and gracious manners of the country residents.
Of course, I have to mention that the plot is hilarious and the hidden punchlines are tasteful. Oscar WIlde’s whips of humor and irony can be found everywhere. People are not who they claim to be; people won’t to what they said they would do. People wrap themselves with the fabricated appearances to escape or to covet, only to find out like merry-go-around they are back to where they began. As spectators as we are, watching or reading the play, we see ignorance, we see hubris, we see absurdity as we do every day of our lives. We worship appearance and we are betrayed by it, but we will never change because “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.” Great literary works can be important only for the sake of its beauty, like this play, it can be extraordinary only for its aesthetic, for its symmetrical irony.