Oedipus Rex: A Critical Analysis through a Literary Lens
One of the central themes in the Oedipus Rex is prophecy, which affects the life of Oedipus the King. The play Oedipus Rex opens with the returning of Creon after consulting the oracle at Delphi. The oracle told Creon that the plague that had afflicted the city would end if Thebes sends away the man who murdered Laius. Shortly after, Tiresias prophesizes that one who was both brother and father to his children will be captured. Oedipus narrates to Jocasta a prophecy he was told when young. The prophecy was that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. Jocasta also tells Oedipus of a similar prophecy that was told to Laius, that she would bear a son that would grow up to murder his father (The Norton Anthropology World Literature Volume A 705-710 ). The prophecies in Oedipus Rex are meant to demonstrate the limits of free will.
For instance, in the story the oracle prophesizes that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. This actually come to pass meaning that Oedipus had no control over his actions. The gods already sealed his fate. Oedipus and Jocasta debate whether the prophesies are true, but all of them are fulfilled. This is an indication that Sophocles wanted to demonstrate the authority of the gods and their messengers because people had started to rebel against this authority in Athens in the 5th century B.C (Bloom 18-20).
It is evident that Oedipus had no choice because he had to fulfill the prophecy. Nevertheless, Oedipus was banished from Thebes when he was still a baby, but he was saved and grew up as prince in Corinth. When he heard that he would kill his father, Oedipus leaves Corinth, and by coincidence, he ends up in Thebes where he kills his father and marry his mother (Bloom 18-20). It seems that Oedipus had a strong desire to escape his fate, but it caught up with him. Some scholars have argued that Oedipus is responsible for his own fate because of a tragic mistake, but no scholar has shown the specific mistake Oedipus committed to invite his fate. The story is meant to convey the message that we are not entirely responsible for our fate, and disasters and mistakes can afflict anyone. The story also demonstrates that humans have no power over fate or the gods (Bloom 18-20).
People in ancient Greek societies believed that the gods could predict the future, and some special people could communicate with the gods. Seers or prophets were the people that could communicate with the gods. For example, in the story Tiresias, a blind prophet sees a vision of the events that would occur in the future (Bloom 21-23). Moreover, priest and oracles who lived in the temple of the gods, for instance, Apollo, the oracle at Delphi were also believed to have the ability to interpret god’s messages and prophesize the future for people who were interested. After learning about the prophecy that he would kill his father, Oedipus, Laius and Jocasta all cooperate in an effort to try to prevent the prophesy. However, their efforts to prevent the prophecy is what brings it to completion (Bloom 21-23).
Oedipus kills his father and marry his mother during an attempt to prevent the events, which raises the question whether he could have exercised free will in the matter. Jocasta says that the prophecy is fake because she cannot believe that her son would grow to kill his father. When Jocasta finds out that the prophecy had already been fulfilled, she kills herself (Bloom 21-23). Oedipus, the husband to Jocasta and the King of Thebes turns out to be the son that was sent away as a baby. In the story, Oedipus had fulfilled his fate long ago without knowing it. At the end of the play, Oedipus admits that the gods had already determined his fate, but he refused to see the truth. This expression means that it is impossible to escape from one’s fate, but the manner people respond to their fate is based on free will (Sophocles 43).
For example, Oedipus is a victim of fate, but he is not completely innocent because he is partly responsible for his fate. He was in control of the manner he responded to the prophecy. He chose to try to run away from his destiny. In addition, Oedipus ignored the prophecy and even called Teiresias a fool when the prophet reaffirmed to him his fate (Sophocles 43). Hence, some people have argued that Oedipus ignorance and cowardice is what led to his downfall. Regardless of the arguments, the main themes in the story is fate and free will. The story demonstrates that we do not have control over everything that happens in our lives, and we cannot escape our destiny. In addition, the gods have power and authority over human beings, and can determine their fate.
Bloom, Harold. Sophocles’ Oedipus rex. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2007. Print.
Sophocles, B Knox. Tree Theban plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985. Print.
The Norton Anthropology World Literature Volume A . Oedipus Rex. n.d.