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Oscar Wilde has a tremendous reputation and impact in a satirical context all around the world. He covers his criticism in the text with humor and wit. The Importance of Being Earnest is one of his well-known plays and in that play, we can seize the criticism of the nature of marriage, the constraints of morality, and the distortion of society. However, there is a hidden narrative about the attitudes of society toward homosexuality and sexual interest, especially in 19th-century England. The name Ernest was a jargon word for the homosexual in the late 19th century. There is a line from a book of gay love poetry titled Love in Earnest:” While Earnest sets my heart flame.” This proves the soundness of the slang and Wilde would have certainly known the indirect meaning of the word.

The main characters are two gentlemen. Jack and Algernon both live double lives and both take up the name Ernest at one point. Jack invented a good brother, Ernest, so he could move away from the country and come to town whenever he wanted. On the contrary, Algernon creates an invalid disabled friend “ Bunbury”, so he can leave the town and go to the country. Bunburying can be seen as the practice of creating a well-thought-out deception that allows one to misbehave while seeming very responsible and having high standards of duty. As an explanatory example, when Algy describes his journey to Jack’s country house, he names this arrival as Bunburying. This can be seen as an attempt at their homosexuality. They both are considered a gentleman and honorable men because of their helpful and responsible behaviors toward their brothers and friends, respectively. There is a sort of casino in town that allows just men to get in and there is a “ cancan” performance men can watch. Some men dancers wear women’s clothes. In the cancan scene, dancers throw roses to the audience at the end of the dance and Jack catches a rose above Algy’s head and gives it to him gently. A woman’s effort to heterosexual flirting is prevented by a homoerotic encounter. In the continued scene, Jack changes the direction of the conversation and confesses that he is in love with Gwendolen. This change made me think that he was trying to cover up his previous gesture and hide the tension. They both are in disguise their visits, some behaviors or thoughts because in the 1800s, confessing and convicting of being homosexual was a crime in England. Men had to remain silent about their sexual interests.

There is an image that Wilde intentionally: cucumber sandwiches. But “why did he choose a cucumber?” The sandwiches are Lady Bracknell’s special request and they are made for her and Gwendolen, but Algernon eats all of them instead of these women. Wilde may try to show that these cucumbers which can be associated with the male reproductive organ because of their phallic shape, are served only by women. Algernon’s desire to eat represents his homosexuality. Lady Bracknell sometimes acts and talks like she knows his nephew’s sexual interests and she talks sarcastically. For instance, when she invites Algy to dinner and wants to introduce him to a lady, Algy sadly refuses her invitation because he has to see his sick friend Bunbury. Aunt’s saying is like a treat for Algy to make his decision about his tendencies: “Mr. Bunbry made up his mind whether he was going to live or die.” Towards the end of the film, Algy and Cecily are engaged to be married and Aunt gives her permission. Algy informs her about the death of Bunbury and says“ Doctors found out Bunbury couldn’t live.” The use of the terms “explosion” and “ couldn’t live” represents Algy’s submission to the social rules and pressures. Death of Bunbury pleased Aunt Augusta and her reply can be considered as an acceptance of Algy’s homosexuality: ”I am glad, however, that he made up his mind at the last to some definite course of action…”.

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Many physiatrists and philosophers, especially Freud, argue that jealousy is a form of defense mechanism against homosexual impulses. After Jack is refused by Gwendolen’s mother, he and Algy go to a pub where everywhere is full of men who seem very “close”. When Gwendolen comes and takes away Jack, the look in Algy’s eyes expresses his jealousy. We can observe the same look in Jack’s eyes when Algy tells him that he loves Cecily. They both seem jealous and disappointed because of the fear of losing each other and the fear of solidarity. The feeling of togetherness and having something in common, especially in a very controversial and strictly undesirable ‘peculiarity’ like sexuality. This fear is the background of their very sincere and intensive cuddling and happiness when they learn that they are brothers at the end of the film. That means whatever happens or whoever they get married cannot separate them.

Finally, there are many details in the film that make us feel the tendencies of homosexual orientation. For instance, the female musicians in Cecily’s Dreams are men with wigs like the cancan dancers in the casino. Algy’s taking Jack’s handkerchief on the sly or the instant intimacy between them in their meaningless fight for the muffins are other examples. Also, the sentence Algy uses “ the essence of romance is uncertainty” refers to his relatively different and unusual ( for these days ) sexual preferences.

Anyone can understand the film. However, seeing through the ideas and criticisms requires some effort and research. Oscar Wilde is very accomplished in hiding his slating and strictures. Especially because of Oscar Wilde’s personal life, it is not surprising that there are many references to homosexuality in his play. This shows that Victorian society, with its biases and many rules, used to make non-heterosexual people live a life of pretending to be someone they are not. 

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