An immense desire for personal satisfaction, and extraordinary reputation can often result in a sickly, perverse distortion of reality. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, a man well known for his intellect and wisdom, finds himself blind to the truth of his life, and his parentage. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet also contains a character that is in search of the truth, which ultimately leads to his own demise, as well as the demise of many around him. Arthur Miller’s play, The Death of a Salesman, tells of a tragic character so wrapped up in his delusional world, that reality and illusion fuse, causing an internal explosion that leads to his downfall. Each play enacts the struggle of a man attempting to come to grips with his own, harsh reality and leaving behind his comfortable fantasy world. In the end, no man can escape the truth no matter how hard he may fight it. In choosing the fragility of chimera over the stability of reality, the characters meet their inevitable ruin.
From the beginning of Sophocles’ unfortunate play, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus takes many actions and makes many choices leading to his own collapse. He could have endured the plague, but out of sympathy for his anguished citizens, he has Creon go to Delphi. When he learns of Apollo’s word, he could have calmly investigated the murder of the former King Laios, but in his hastiness, he condemns the murderer, forbidding the fellow citizens “ever to receive that man or speak to him…let him join in sacrifice, lustration…driven from every house,” (632-3). In doing so, he inadvertently curses
himself. Oedipus chooses to ignore multiple warnings, involving truth of his life and parentage. He chooses to disregard the ruinous prophecy of his fate to murder his father and wed his mother, since he thinks he can escape the divination of the gods. Oedipus attempts to defy the gods by fleeing his homeland, Corinth, but instead launches himself directly into the hands of fate. Oedipus ignores another warning of truth in ignoring the words of Teiresias. He believes he has successfully escaped his own destiny and, therefore, Teiresias’ words mean nothing, yet Oedipus could not have been farther from the truth. In a few moments, Teiresias provides Oedipus with everything he needs to know concerning his fate by saying, “You yourself are the pollution of this country,” (635). Despite this...
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... An overwhelming desire for personal contentment and unprecedented reputation can often result in a sickly, twisted distortion of reality. In choosing the feebleness of illusion over the permanence of reality, people meet their inevitable defeat. No person has a perfect life. Everyone has conflicts in his or her life that they must come to terms with, eventually. The way people choose to deal with these conflicts can differ just as much as the people, themselves. Some people feel the need to attack the problem, while some choose to ignore the problem. Thus, they prefer the comfort of fantasy to the harshness of reality. The tragic characters including Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, and the memorable failure, Willy Loman, serve as living proof that bypassing truth, rather than dealing with it, will ultimately lead to one’s termination.
Shakespeare, W. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. New York, Oxford Univ. Press, 1978.
Sophocles, Oedipus the King. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry,
and Drama. Eds. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 2nd Compact ed. New York: Longman, 2000.
Death of a Salesman Auther Miller (First published) – 1949 York Notes (on)
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