In Oscar Wilde's satirical play "The Importance of Being Earnest," how is the importance of self-awareness portrayed?
Oscar Wilde's play "The Importance of Being Earnest" helps both character and audience alike to become self-aware through portrayal of a satirical attitude towards life within an amusing plot. The best way that self-awareness is portrayed in the play is in Act I when Jack and Algernon discuss propriety, marriage and bunburying.
Propriety: First, Algernon is preparing to meet with his Aunt and cousin for tea when Jack arrives unannounced. This might seem rude in proper society but is overlooked because of Algy is not one to stand on ceremony; although, he does warn Jack that his Aunt might not like it. In honor of his Aunt, Algy has cucumber sandwiches brought up and waiting for her. It is funny, however, that although he tells Jack not to eat the sandwiches, he winds up eating them all up before her arrival. In this humorous way, Algy attempts to show his respect for his aunt and the rules of society, but selfishly tosses that aside for his own appetites. At this point, however, Algy and Jack are not necessarily self-aware, but hopefully, the audience sees their lack of respect and looks at themselves and what they would do in a similar situation.
Marriage: Next, the topic of traditional marriage is brought up as Jack reveals his intentions to propose to Gwendolen. The discussion is steered by Algy towards how he feels about marriage wherein Jack may also examine himself. Algy explains that proposals might be fun, but the reality of marriage will eventually hit afterwards:
I don't see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If I ever get married, I'll certainly try to forget the fact (I.i).
This discussion brings to light the reality of marriage after the romantic courtship and proposal that those who are married will understand and bring about self-reflection as well as self-awareness in the present.
Bunburying: Finally, the talk of marriage leads to Algy's habit of bunburying! Since bunburying is a way to excuse one's self from society without offending anyone, it is also a reflection of character. One who uses lies to avoid responsibilities with one's relations might be considered a coward. However, once Jack reveals that he uses an imagined brother to leave his home in the country for a secret life in the city, Algy reveals that he does the same thing to get out of the city. Jack and Algy admit to each other--in a round-about way--that they are equally deceptive which makes Jack question his integrity. It is at this point of self-awareness that Jack decides to "kill" his brother Earnest and be done with living a double life. Ironically, though, he soon discovers that Gwendolen will only marry a man by the name of Ernest and that starts up a whole new discussion!