Children are placed on a path towards an educational future, and are told to focus on learning what has been written in a textbook. During these years, time and energy is spent trying to advance knowledge, and evaluate ourselves as it is expected. We question our being, seeking for the truth behind identity and purpose. These very questions which cross everyone’s thoughts represent a human need to create self-identity, the distinctive characteristics which individuals use to differentiate themselves from others, is to succeed in observing one’s physical and psychological make-up, and given place in society and culture. In Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of The Woods, John Wade, and Sophocles, Oedipus in Oedipus the King, are both examples of men who fail to do so. When individuals follow the human instinct to establish a sense of identity, it brings about the introspection that causes those same individuals to question their personal characteristics. Failure to accept one’s true identity not only prevents the individual’s self-acceptance, but denies their acceptance by society.
Individuals, who deny their true identity in order to fulfill the expectations of others therefore gaining their acceptance, in fact actually prevent themselves from being accepted by society. Presented as being lost in himself, John Wade still sustains the need for others acceptance. John denies all truth which surfaces, telling himself, “This could not have happened. Therefore it did not” (O’Brien 109), denying true identity. When hiding from oneself, rising to others expectations to gain acceptance is most important, although in consequence, the individual becomes their own obstacle. “We’re performers. We get up on stage and sing and dance and do our little show, anything to please folks, anything for applause” (O’Brien 97). In covering the truth of one’s identity, the goal is to reach others set expectations. Like John Wade, Oedipus also denies truth, “Ask all you want you’ll prove that I am not the murderer” (Sophocles 696). Oedipus demonstrates the unattainable acceptance from his peers when denying the truth that he does not wish to be true. Although unintended, the denial of identity in order to reach set expectations only prevents society’s blessing. If one fails to accept their self, the expectation of society’s full acceptance remains unattainable.
When people hide their true selves from others preventing themselves from being accepted by society occurs. Shame about their past often causes individuals to hide the truth from others but inevitably leads to a loss of human connection and a disconnection from society. Tim O’Brien’s ‘John Wade’ is an example of a man who brews his shame into secrets. “Must’ve asked a trillion times if there was anything that could hurt us… Man never said a single word. Zero. Which isn’t how you run a campaign” (O’Brien 11). Hiding secrets from people is a metaphorical time bomb, which, when it inevitably detonates, brings absolute loss of human connection and disconnection from society. Similar to John Wade, Oedipus prevents acceptance by society due to a shameful past. “Loxias once said it was my fate that I would marry my own mother and shed my father’s blood with my own hands. That’s why, many years ago, I left my home in Corinth” ( Sophocles 1181-1185). With the un-acceptance of one’s shameful past hiding from the truth causes separation from the society lived in. “The dark was their shame. It was also their future. They tries not to talk about it but sometimes they couldn’t help it” (O’Brien 267). Hiding one’s true identity from others causes the feeling of isolation to develop as society and loved ones distance themselves. Being unaccepted due to shame occurs because the individual decides to hide the truth in a world which demands honesty.
A fear of rejection also causes some to hide their true selves, but when the truth is…