The Importance of Being Earnest

what is the symbole of the tea in the play

the tea is presented in the play many times

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Food and scenes of eating appear frequently in The Importance of Being Earnest, and they are almost always sources of conflict. Act I contains the extended cucumber sandwich joke, in which Algernon, without realizing it, steadily devours all the sandwiches. In Act II, the climax of Gwendolen and Cecily’s spat over who is really engaged to Ernest Worthing comes when Gwendolen tells Cecily, who has just offered her sugar and cake, that sugar is “not fashionable any more” and “Cake is rarely seen at the best houses nowadays.” Cecily responds by filling Gwendolen’s tea with sugar and her plate with cake. The two women have actually been insulting each other quite steadily for some time, but Cecily’s impudent actions cause Gwendolen to become even angrier, and she warns Cecily that she “may go too far.” On one level, the jokes about food provide a sort of low comedy, the Wildean equivalent of the slammed door or the pratfall. On another level, food seems to be a stand-in for sex, as when Jack tucks into the bread and butter with too much gusto and Algernon accuses him of behaving as though he were already married to Gwendolen. Food and gluttony suggest and substitute for other appetites and indulgences.


Every instance where food is mentioned – from the Algernon’s opening discussion of wine with his servant, Lane, to the girls’ insults over tea and the guys’ climactic fight over muffins – is fraught with conflict. The fight over something as basic as food – something that every human being has a carnal need for– might represents another carnal desire: sex. Because the men fight over food the most (Algernon’s wolfing down of the cucumber sandwiches to Lady Bracknell’s distress, Jack’s settling for bread and butter, Algernon’s consumption of Jack’s wine and muffins), we suspect that food fights are their way of expressing their sexual frustration in the face of unusually domineering women. You can’t deny that Lady Bracknell exerts a tremendous amount of power. Even Gwendolen and Cecily put their male lovers in compromising positions and dictate the terms of their marriages.