The Awful Truth is about the falling-apart and renewal of the marriage between the two main characters, Jerry and Lucy. The events leading up to the divorce begin when Jerry comes home to find that his wife, Lucy, is not home. In an earlier scene, Jerry talks to one of his friends at a fitness club about how he told Lucy he was going to Florida, but instead went somewhere else. When Lucy arrives, she is accompanied by an effeminate music instructor, Armand, who she spent the night with after his “car broke down”. Mutual suspicions lead to a heated discussion in which Lucy decides within minutes that she wants a divorce. Throughout the film, Jerry and Lucy date different characters, including Barbara and Dan, respectively, with whom their relationships fail, or are sabotaged, in the case of Jerry and Barbara. The film ends with Jerry admitting he made a mistake, and the relationship is mended.
In The Awful Truth, irony and screwball humor are used to satirize the institution of marriage. The film begins with Jerry speaking to a friend, when he says, “What wives don’t know won’t hurt them”. This could be viewed as a criticism of the supposed fidelity that marriage emphasizes. When Lucy calls her lawyer, he begins to speak about how a marriage is cherished more the longer it lasts. Ironically, in the background, as the lawyer’s wife tells him that his dinner is getting cold, he shoots her cold and insensitive remarks, like “Shut up!”. This could be a criticism of the hypocrisy of those that are supposed to defend the institution of marriage. It is possible that the suddenness of their divorce could be intended not as a criticism of marriage, but of divorce itself. Perhaps the director intended to emphasize the fact that many couples seek divorce as opposed to trying to work out their problems and continue the marriage.