Realizing Identity, Realizing Flaws Essay

1973 words - 8 pages

In Sophocles' Oedipus as well as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the main character embarks on a journey to self-discovery, ultimately gaining the knowledge of his own flaws. Yet the differences in their failings cause the two characters to have very different endings. After Oedipus learns of his true identity, he realizes that he has cursed himself with his arrogance and pride, and the play ends tragically. Sir Gawain, on the other hand, has good reason for his mistakes as he simply fears for his own life and his story ends on a lighter note. While self-discovery can humble a character, the nature of his flaws ultimately determine his end.

Initially Oedipus appears blind to the knowledge of his heritage, but, by the end of the play he gains the horrifying knowledge of his true identity and the information he has indeed fulfilled the prophecy. Once Oedipus realizes that he has fulfilled the oracle, he panics and cries out, "LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT / never again flood these eyes with your white radiance, oh gods, my eyes. All, all / the oracles have proven true" (ll. 1492-1494). Oedipus finally comes out of figurative blindness and into the "light," or knowledge, that he has indeed killed his father and married his mother. He essentially curses he new-found wisdom and begs that "light never again" reach his eyes because of its horrifying consequences. In addition, Oedipus recognizes the fact that he "knew nothing until now, saw nothing until now, and became / the husband of the woman who gave him birth" (ll. 1926-1927). He admits that that until his conversation with shepherd he "knew nothing until now," as he believed that he would not complete the prophecy by fleeing to Corinth. Unfortunately, this new insight into Oedipus' identity and birthright does
not come as welcome news since he has fulfilled the prophecy he tried to escape from.

Although the knowledge comes as appalling information, Oedipus still insists on finding out the truth which ultimate strips him of his pride. Oedipus cannot stop searching for his identity despite the fateful consequences of his search. For example, when the shepherd hesitates in telling Oedipus the truth, claiming that "the words / are awful" (1470-1471), Oedipus responds that "I am afraid to hear them.../ but I must" (ll. 1473-1474). Even with the forewarning that the reality will come as "awful" knowledge for Oedipus, he still searches to learn the truth. He admits to feeling "afraid" in anticipation of the news, but chooses to hear the words anyway. In fact, Oedipus insists on finding out the truth even though he knows they will not bring good news. Then, once the shepherd reveals Oedipus' true birth and identity, Oedipus blinds himself and acknowledges his mistakes. He realizes that he has "fallen lower than any man now, born nobler than the best, / born the king of Thebes! Cursed with my own curses, I commanded Thebes to drive out the killer" (ll. 1793-1795). ...

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