“Get to true identity” is not always happy
Last week we explored the story concept of
Get to true identity.
The examples we cited-Huck Finn, Bogey in Casablanca, Thelma and Louise-all got to be who they really were by the climax of their stories. And their endings (and I count Thelma and Louise’s in this category) were happy.
But true identity doesn’t always equate to riding off into the sunset. Ask Oedipus. Ask Shane. Ask Jake Gittes.
These latter tales are tragedies. To me, that makes them a loftier form of fiction, even a transcendent one. But they are definitely not fun finishes.
When Oedipus, king of Thebes, gets to his true identity, i.e. the fate-doomed stranger who has killed his father and married his mother (and thus is the source of the god-spawned pestilence that is destroying his beloved city), his world collapses. In agony, he plunges stakes into his eyes.
When Shane gets to his true identity-a gunfighter who can never turn the page to become a normal person and live a regular life-he is forced by his own sense of honor to “ride on,” leaving behind not just the people he has come to love but his last chance at happiness.
And our private detective J.J. Gittes? The best anyone can tell him at the tragic end of his tale is, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
The Greeks had a word for it.
The moment when a character in a drama realizes their true identity. In Greek tragedy, this moment coincided with the peripeteia, the “reversal of fortune.”
At this moment in the drama, we in the audience realize that the true engine of the story is not Oedipus or Shane or Jake.
The real hero is the gods.
The unseen, unknowable forces at work in all aspects of human endeavor.
This, however, does not negate the principle of
Get to true identity.
It simply adds another, deeper dimension to it.
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches
to the intelligent, nor yet favor to men of knowledge;
but time and chance happeneth to them all.
“Get to true identity” is not always happy.
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