Discovery of the Self

After our class discussions on An Ideal Husband, and now having read The Importance of Being Earnest, one of the themes that is interesting me most is the discovery of the self, and how this plays out very differently in Wilde’s two plays.  In An Ideal Husband, Sir Robert experiences trauma as a result of the discovery of his true self, or at least the self he was in the past.  He wore the mask of an honest, righteous politician, and this version of self was the foundation of his marriage to Lady Chiltern.  Lady Chiltern wishes her husband’s mask remained intact, preferring to be ignorant of his true behavior.  She exclaims, “Lie to me!  Lie to me!… You lied to the whole world.  And yet you will not lie to me” (Wilde 520).  In An Ideal Husband, the idea of the mask takes on a much lighter tone.  The two male protagonists wear masks to change their identities, simply to escape to either the country or London.  The discovery of their true selves, particularly for Jack, is a humorous, joyous occasion that provides him with a family that he only imagined having, in addition to a wife.  Not only is he now permitted to marry Gwendolen, but he is also thrilled that he has “a brother after all,” someone who is already his close friend (Wilde 380).  This contrasts Sir Robert’s moment of discovery, which nearly tears apart his marriage.  In The Importance of Being Earnest, the removal of the masks is what permits a happy ending for each of the couples.  In An Ideal Husband, though his true self is revealed to his wife and close friend, Sir Robert maintains his public façade and enters an even more significant role in the government on account of his well-maintained secret, the protection of the mask becoming necessary for a happy ending. 

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