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Oedipus Rex Essay

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Summary
  3. Conflict Between Individuals
  4. Struggle Against Nature
  5. Conflict Within Oneself
  6. Conclusion


The works of ancient Greek literature have captivated readers across generations. One such masterpiece, Oedipus the King, crafted by the esteemed playwright Sophocles, surpasses temporal and cultural barriers in its profound exploration of the intricacies of human existence. This article takes you on a journey into the enigmatic realm of Oedipus, a character whose life becomes a tumultuous battlefield where destiny and individual agency intersect.


In the play “Oedipus the King,” the central focus is on Oedipus himself, a pivotal character in the exploration of human nature. Oedipus represents the tragic hero arche­type, possessing both noble qualities and experiencing a devastating downfall.

Oedipus's journey commences with a prophecy foretelling that he will murder his father and marry his mother. Striving to evade this ominous fate, he unknowingly sets the wheels of destiny in motion. This tragic irony serves as the fulcrum around which the play balances its exploration of fate and personal agency.

The narrative explores the theme of blindness, both literal and metaphorical. It serves as a powerful symbol, representing the characters' lack of awareness and their moments of revelation. Interestingly, Oedipus, acclaimed for his wisdom and insight as the king of Thebes, remains oblivious to the underlying truth of his own life. His journey to unravel his origins parallels humanity's quest for self-understanding and knowledge.

In a surprising turn of events, Oedipus ends up causing his own suffering because he just can't stop trying to find out the truth. This theme highlights how fate and personal choices are closely connected. Oedipus acts this way because he wants to discover the truth and, sadly, this leads him to his tragic destiny.

Conflict Between Individuals

In “Oedipus Rex,” the most prominent conflict between individuals arises from Oedipus's relentless pursuit of the truth surrounding King Laius's murder. Oedipus's determination to save Thebes from a plague compels him to seek the truth behind Laius's death, unwittingly pitting him against the very prophecy he wishes to elude. In this instance, Oedipus' problems extend beyond King Laius to the gods and oracles who predict his sad end.

Oedipus gets caught in a destiny he has unintentionally created for himself, and the battle between him and King Laius reflects the clash between the past and the present. Oedipus comes into the blind prophet Tiresias while looking into the murder; however, he only makes indirect references to the truth. As a result of Tiresias' resistance, Oedipus becomes more and more annoyed, thus escalating the battle.

Oedipus' hunt for the truth forces him into a dispute with his brother-in-law and trusty ally, Creon. Oedipus suspected Creon of working with Tiresias to steal his kingdom when Tiresias claimed that Oedipus was King Laius' killer. This accusation deepens the conflict between individuals and initiates a sequence of tragic events.

The conflict intensifies as Oedipus confronts Jocasta, his wife and mother, regarding the revelations made by Tiresias. Jocasta, eager to shield Oedipus from the truth, dismisses prophecies as unreliable. In doing so, she adds another layer to the conflict between individuals, with Oedipus determined to unearth the facts and Jocasta equally committed to burying them.

The ultimate confrontation between Oedipus and the shepherd who exposed him to his tragic fate serves as the zenith of the conflict between individuals. The shepherd, initially reluctant to reveal the truth, ultimately discloses Oedipus's identity as the son of Laius and Jocasta. This revelation shatters Oedipus's world and seals his tragic fate.

During these struggles, Oedipus' unrelenting commitment to finding the truth is his strength and doom. The complex nature of the inner struggle in “Oedipus Rex” is made apparent by his continuous search for knowledge and refusal to submit to forces that strive to conceal the truth. The tragedy of Oedipus rests not just in his deeds, but also in his relentless desire to solve the puzzles of history.

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Struggle Against Nature

In “Oedipus Rex,” the conflict against nature is epitomized by the devastating plague afflicting Thebes. Oedipus, as the king, not only contends with the natural catastrophe befalling his city, but also with the supernatural forces underpinning it. His determination to rid Thebes of this pestilence represents his struggle against nature's harsh and indifferent forces threatening to engulf his kingdom.

The play begins with Thebes plagued by a deadly illness, symbolizing nature's fury. When Oedipus hears of his people's suffering, he vows to find a remedy and relieve their torment. His determination to solve the Sphinx's riddle stems from his sense of duty towards his city and his will to confront the natural disaster that has struck it.

As Oedipus dives deeper into the investigation of Laius's murder, he starts to uncover a connection between the murder and the plague. This discovery heightens the conflict against nature, as Oedipus realizes that Thebes's salvation depends on solving the enigma of his own existence.

The battle between Oedipus and nature climax when he discovers the horrifying truth about his parents and unknowingly fulfills the prophecy.

Ultimately, Oedipus's struggle against the plague and nature's forces proves futile. The play underscores the insignificance of human endeavors when faced with nature's capriciousness. Regardless of his noble intentions and unwavering resolve, Oedipus cannot alter the course of the natural world. This realization adds an extra layer of tragedy to his character.

Conflict Within Oneself

The central and most significant conflict in “Oedipus Rex” lies within the character of Oedipus himself. As he uncovers the truth about his identity and unknowingly fulfills the prophecy, Oedipus battles with intense inner turmoil. His journey to discover himself and the tragic realization of his actions' magnitude represent the classic internal struggle. Oedipus's unwavering determination to seek truth evolves into a tragic journey of self-awareness that ultimately leads to his downfall.

Oedipus's internal conflict is rooted in his unwavering thirst for knowledge and truth. Throughout the play, he demonstrates an unrelenting determination to uncover the mysteries of his past and the source of Thebes's suffering. This determination serves as his strength and tragic flaw, as it draws him deeper into a web of fate and self-discovery.

The moment of self-revelation, when Oedipus discovers that he is both the murderer of Laius and the son of Jocasta, represents the climax of the internal conflict. The realization of his unwitting incestuous relationship and patricide drives Oedipus to blind himself in a fit of despair and self-punishment.

Oedipus's self-inflicted blindness symbolizes his internal turmoil. It signifies his acceptance of culpability and a desperate attempt to escape the unbearable truth. This act underscores the depth of his internal conflict as he grapples with the consequences of his actions and his tragic destiny.

Amidst the tragedy lies the core of the human condition – the turmoil within Oedipus. He embodies the unflinching desire to unravel the truth, irrespective of its consequences- a trait that is so unique to the human psyche. His quest for comprehension never ceases, even as it ensnares him within its clutches. The audience, spellbound by his inner conflict, is prompted to reflect upon the significance of fate, free will, and the myriad complexities that shape our existence. Oedipus appears to be a mirror that reflects our deepest fears and desires.


As a masterpiece of Greek tragedy, “Oedipus Rex” remains an enduring portrayal of the intricacies of human nature, destiny, and free will. The enduring and challenging themes of man against his fellow man, the environment, and, most significantly, the self is exposed through the tragic odyssey of Oedipus. Oedipus' relentless pursuit of truth serves as a timeless symbol of humanity's yearning for self-exploration, even when faced with incapability. Ultimately, “Oedipus Rex” teaches us that the enigmas of the human psyche, akin to the Sphinx’s riddle, are baffling and will last a lifetime.

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