Discuss the themes of identity explored in "King Oedipus" and "Waiting for Godot".
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Victoria Ulett World Literature Paper 1 Discuss the themes of identity explored in "King Oedipus" and "Waiting for Godot". Identity is made up of individual characteristics by which a person is recognized individually, as a member of a group, and of a wider society. We can draw this identity from our environment and setting, other individuals, memory, and also by contrast and similarities. Identity is needed to give people the ability to know who they are and to exude their individuality, as a form of existence, upon others. The forms of identity explored in these two plays are; the confirmation of identity and the sense of self. We can then maintain our identity by having physical identification and keeping personal relationships. The search for identity is a theme in Sophocles' Ancient Greek tragedy, "King Oedipus". Oedipus lacks sense of self because of a curse set upon him from birth. Before he was born, a curse stated that he would fulfill the prophecy of killing his father and marrying his mother. The play focuses on the gradual and delayed revelation of this oracle that he has already fulfilled. Moreover, it specifically focuses on Oedipus' quest for his inner identity. In "King Oedipus", Oedipus has drawn his identity from his surroundings.
This contrast between Vladimir and Estragon and Pozzo provide Pozzo with his identity, and because he can compare himself to them, he knows he is Pozzo. He often consults his possessions such as his watch and his slave, he also pretends he has a need to use them like when "he puts on his glasses...he takes off his glasses."3 Pozzo is lonely and starving for attention, which is why he strives for companionship in Lucky and attempts to stay as long as possible in Vladimir and Estragon's company. A strong proof for this need of attention is presented in his "|terrifying voice|"; "I am Pozzo! Pozzo! Does that name mean nothing to you? I say does that name mean nothing to you? ...PPPOZZZO!"4 This authorative language is a façade covering his insecurities with himself, as is his use of power and cruelty over his slave, ironically named Lucky. Pozzo knows who he is, it is evident in the way he informs everyone he is "PPPOZZZO!" However, he needs confirmation of his identity from other people's perception, which is why he always consults Vladimir and Estragon, questioning, "I am perhaps not particularly human, but who cares?"5 In this there is a great lack of self-acceptance, which demonstrates Pozzo's strongest weakness. Additionally, Pozzo wants to make an impression on whomever he meets so that they can confirm his existence for him.
Godot is an indefinite figure, (unlike Vladimir and Estragon), whose non-presence is the play's centre. I believe that both plays address the human condition. "Waiting for Godot" and "King Oedipus" prove that we appear to be born without complete awareness of our selves and the environment we live in. In growing as humans, we gain a sense of identity; however, this sense may be full of illusions. Vladimir and Estragon live in an empty world that does not have many characteristics from which they can draw a sense of identity; in a world where there is no importance of work and achievement, and where nothing is certain. They accept violence, live without amenities, fill their time with irrelevant and repetitive business, and are living in hope of an indefinite figure that will never come and save them. In contrast, Oedipus, as a king, lives in a world where he has everything that Vladimir and Estragon do not. However, he too has an illusory identity and the same need for a sense of self. Ironically, his outcome is more tragic, as he loses everything because he finds his true identity, where as Vladimir and Estragon lose nothing. They continue their lives in exactly the same way as when they started. VLADIMIR: "We'll hang ourselves tomorrow. Unless Godot comes." ESTRAGON: "And if he comes?" VLADIMIR: "We'll be saved.
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