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 Shakespeares 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 Millers 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 Apollos 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 himlet him join in sacrifice, lustrationdriven 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 obvious proclamation of truth, Oedipus chooses to wallow in his pleasant fantasy, that he has escaped his inevitable fate. Oedipus foolish decisions ultimately lead to his downfall in the play. Oedipus chooses to kill Laios. He chooses to marry Iocaste. He chooses to forcefully, and publicly, assume the mission of discovering the identity of Laios murderer saying ironically, I say I take the sons part, just as though I were his son, to press the fight for him and see it won, (633).
He proceeds on this mission and chooses to ignore the warnings of Creon, Iocaste, Teiresias, the messenger, the shepherd, and anyone who attempts to stand between him and the truth; and, he chooses to blind himself. In the end, Oedipus most foolish choice prevails throughout the play; the choice of illusion over reality ultimately costs him his life. Similar to the quest for truth in Oedipus case, so does Hamlet lead to his own decease. In the first act of William Shakespeares Hamlet, after Hamlet is aware of the tormented ghost of his father walking on the ramparts, he goes to witness it for himself.
This immediately exemplifies the theory that Hamlet, like Oedipus, is in search of the truth, until he realizes it is too much to bear. Subsequent to seeing the apparition, he is convinced to avenge his fathers murderer. The ghost tells him, Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder, (29). As Hamlet lays the trap for the new King Claudius, he is procrastinating in order to solve his self-doubt. Even after the ghost tells Hamlet how his father was murdered, Hamlet has the players act it out, just to be certain. His ambiguity of the truth remains constant.
Although the king gives himself away after watching the reenactment of his brothers murder, by shouting, Give me some light. Away! (79), Hamlet is still inconclusive. Hamlet must speak with his mother before he persists his plans for revenge. Hamlet meets with his mother in an attempt to set her straight. He intends on making her understand the truth behind her wrongdoings. Come, come, and sit you down; you shall not budge. You go not, till I set up a glass where you may see the inmost part of you, (88). It was Gertrudes subsequent reaction that led to the pivotal moment when Hamlet kills Polonius.
The murder of Polonius was completely impetuous. It is only after the reappearance of the apparition that Hamlet begins to ease up on his mother. It is by this moment in time, that Hamlet cannot deny the truth any longer. In the final scene of the play, Hamlet accidentally kills Laertes with the same poisoned sword that slain him. By not drinking from the poisoned cup, Hamlet is also, effectively, responsible for his own mothers death. All of these murders have been non-intentional, until Laertes informs him that Claudius is accountable for both the poison on the sword, and in the cup.
It is then that Hamlet, deliberately, faces the malicious truth and murders Claudius, Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane, drink off this potion, (145). Hamlets quest for truth is liable for all of the deaths in the play, including his own. Finally, Willy Loman of Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman tells the story of a character who also, ultimately, sentenced to discover his smallness through the investigation of truth. Willy sustains himself with the illusion that he has countless friends, and that everything will turn out well, including the success of he and his sons, Biff and Happy.
The extreme to which Willy takes this illusion causes him to create his own reality where he says things like, And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England. The finest people, (679). The family lies, even amongst themselves, about their position, as revealed during the climax of the play: Biff: … We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house! Happy: We always told the truth! Biff (turning on him): You big blow, are you the assistant buyer? You’re one of two assistants to the assistant aren’t you? (733).
Another example is the way in which Willy led Biff to believe that he was a salesman for Oliver. The cause for this extrapolation of the truth may be part of Willys paranoid psyche that he has not raised his boys right. Willys spirit wanes when he has nothing to look forward to, and when his spirit is down, he goes into a flashback. It is as though he is dying, and his life is replaying before his eyes. For example, the morning when he is going to see Howard, and Biff is going to see Oliver, Willy is invigorated, and in the realms of sanity for the first time in the play.
Willy, wholeheartedly, maintains this fantasy life until Howard tells him, I dont want you to represent us, (706). Only at this time, does Willy begin to see the truth of his overwhelming failure in life. Willy searches for happiness, not only through his illusions, but also through having an affair with a young woman. This woman tells Willy everything he wants to hear, but nobody will say to him. Despite Willy beginning to realize the truth, he does not face the truth until the end of the play, when all these events fuse in an explosive scene of father-son anguish.
This finally ends with his self-destruction. Willy never achieves success because of the simple fact that he brings down his life, and the lives of those around him, by choosing illusion over reality. In the end, this tragic choice leads to Willys collapse in a final, self-destructive cry for help. 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 ones termination.