In Oedipus Rex, how does Oedipus's question "Who am I?" pertain not only to Oedipus but also to man, or at least to civilized Western man?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think one way of analysing this question is thinking about how the status and identity of Oedipus changes throughout the course of the play. He goes from being a man who is profoundly secure in his identity, or who he thinks himself to be, to being a character that is fraught with existential angst and deeply unsure of who he is. We can see this in the way he presents himself at the beginning of the play and how he uses his name as if it were a kind of healing charm, a universal panacea that is able to stop the plague in Thebes:

Here I am myself--

you all know me, the world knows my fame:

I am Oedipus.

However, by the end of the play, the name of Oedipus has transformed utterly into that of a curse. The move from a character who is profoundly self-assured and rather arrogant in terms of his identity to one who is fraught with existential angst can be argued to be the condition of modern man. It is possible to say that modern man shares these characteristics. At surface level at least the modern man is profoundly self-assured and secure in his identity. However, if we scratch a little below this veneer, we could argue that a welt of insecurities emerge that show Oedipus to be an appropriate model to explain the inconsistencies in modern man.

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Oedipus Rex

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