Character Analysis John (Jack) Worthing


Jack Worthing, like the other main characters in Wilde's play, is less a realistic character and more an instrument for representing a set of ideas or attitudes. Wilde uses him to represent an upper-class character easily recognized by his audience. Jack also gives Wilde an opportunity to explore attitudes about Victorian rituals such as courtship and marriage. As an alter ego of Wilde, Jack represents the idea of leading a life of respectability on the surface (in the country) and a life of deception for pleasure (in the city). His name, Worthing, is related to worthiness, allowing Wilde to humorously consider the correct manners of Victorian society.

As a recognized upper-class Victorian, Jack has earned respectability only because of his adopted father's fortune. It has put him in a position to know the rules of behavior of polite society. His ability to spout witty lines about trivial subjects and say the opposite of what is known to be true are learned results of his position. When Lady Bracknell questions his qualifications for marrying her daughter, he knows she wants to hear about his pedigree. He recognizes that he needs the correct parents along with his wealth.

Of particular significance is Jack's role in the dialogues about social attitudes and rituals, such as courtship and marriage. He often plays the straight man to counter Algernon's humor, but occasionally, he gets the witty lines. Respectability is also a function of Jack's character. Although he leads a deceptive life in town, he represents the ideal of leading a responsible life in the country. He agrees more with the idea of Victorian earnestness or duty than Algernon does. However, because he deceives people in the city, he is still a symbol of Wilde's deceptive life of pleasure in the homosexual community. Jack longs for the respectability of marrying Gwendolen and is willing to do whatever it takes. In the long run, he assumes his rightful place in the very society he has occasionally skewered for its attitudes. Wilde is able to soften Jack's respectability and position as a symbol of the ruling class by showing his enormous sense of humor. The funeral garb for his fake brother's death and the story about the French maid both show that while Jack longs for respectability, he still has the wit and rebelliousness to recognize the ridiculous nature of trivial Victorian concerns.