Although food is not a major theme in The Importance of Being Earnest, it is used symbolically to represent abstract ideas in the play. From the moment the play opens to the point where the curtain falls, there are numerous cases where food is used to represent something else. In most cases, the scene where food is present ends up in conflict showing how food was important in the Victorian age. In a large extent, food is also used as a sign of respect and hospitality to visitors and also as a form of socializing. (Wilde 11) Immediately after the play opens, we are presented with a scene where Lane and Algernon are telling a cucumber sandwich joke. Algernon has prepared the cucumbers as a treat for his aunt, Lady Bracknell.
Additionally, he has also prepared sandwich for his cousin to show how hospitable he was. In this first incidence, food is used as an alternative for other appetites since Algernon devours all the sandwiches without even realizing it. When Lady Bracknell shows up later, Algernon is surprised to notice that he has absentmindedly eaten all the cucumbers and he decides to lie to her that there was no supply for cucumbers in the market that particular day. (Wilde 12) In reality, Algernon’s voracious appetite is used as a swap for the idea of sex. It is interesting to note that Algernon picks up a slice of cucumber every time people are talking about love and marriage. When Jack and Algernon begin talking about Jack’s pending proposal to Gwendolen, the urge to eat something increases significantly between the two men.
Indeed, Algernon’s insatiable appetite is used to represent an underlying greediness and gratuitous extravagance. This is seen in the way he devours the cucumbers while graciously denying Jack the opportunity to have a taste. (Raby 56) In an earlier exchange, Algernon tells jack that he is not allowed to eat cucumbers since he does not have any blood relation with Lady Bracknell who is meant to feast on the cucumbers. Instead, Algernon allows Jack to eat bread and butter since they are the kind of food, which appeals to Gwendolen. In this text, Algernon interprets food as a form of societal and even sexual expression.
When Jack becomes so enthusiastic while eating the bread, Algernon reprimands him for behaving as though he were “married to Gwendolen already.” This clearly shows that the bread was used as a representation for sex in this text. (Raby 60) The social aspect of food appears later when Cecily and Gwendolen have a spat on who is really engaged to Ernest Worthing. Although the spat has been going on for long, the climax comes when Gwendolen tells Cecily whose plate is full of cake and sugar that those things are “rarely seen at the best houses nowadays.” Instead of disputing this information, Cecily responds by filling Gwendolen’s cup with sugar and her plate with pieces of cake to demonstrate that Gwendolen was the one who was incapable of taking care of a home. (Wilde 142)The seriousness with which these two women approached the matter shows that on top of nourishment, food was used as a symbol of sex and one’s social standing in the society.
The Importance of Being Earnest contains scenes where food is used to represent various things in the society.
Right from the start, an excessive obsession with food is used as a representation of an underlying problem in the life of the concerned person. In other instances, food is used as a symbol of sex between couples. In nearly all the cases, food was used in a symbolic way to represent one’s social standing in the society.
Raby, Peter. The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde, 1997. Cambridge University Press.
55-61. Print. Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, 1899. L.
Smithers, 5-149. Print.