Theme Of Inevitability In Oedipus Rex

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Charles R. Swindoll once said, “We cannot change our past. We can not change the fact that people act in a certain way. We can not change the inevitable.” Unfortunately, Swindoll’s statement proved to be very true for the character, Oedipus Rex. Throughout Sophocles’s tragic play, Oedipus Rex, the events of the past prove to be very influential towards the lives of the main characters of the play, specifically Oedipus, the protagonist of the story. Oedipus’s past greatly depicts key aspects of his present and help him establish the realization of his true identity, while also contributing to the inescapable quality of a truly devastating prophecy. This prophecy, given to Oedipus by the blind prophet, Teiresias, states that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. In an attempt to prevent the prophecy from happening, Oedipus’s parents abandon him at childbirth, leaving Oedipus to believe that his adoptive parents were his biological ones. Thus, after hearing the prophecy, Oedipus also desired to escape his fate by fleeing Corinth (his presumed native land) and going to Thebes, where he inadvertently and unknowingly fulfills the prophecy. The main characters’ desires to alter their fates and escape their pasts are the very reasons why the prophecy of the play is fulfilled. Thus, the themes of blindness, self-discovery, and fate are explained in Sophocles' tragic play, Oedipus Rex, through the titular character, Oedipus, who must contend with aspects of his past that detriment his present, such as the murder of his father, his pursuit of the truth, and his acceptance of a tragic and inevitable prophecy.

As early as the first scene of the play, the reader can infer that the protagonist of Oedipus Rex is very confident in who he is as a person and as a king. The reader first sees Oedipus being portrayed as someone whom the people of Thebes hold in high regards because of his intelligence and success in defeating the Sphinx and purging the land of Thebes. Thus, he is held in the highest esteem by his people and is quite confident in his identity, being that he is completely certain that he was born in Corinth and traveled to Thebes in his later age. Yet, Oedipus is also seen as someone who possesses an unrelenting stubbornness that manifests itself in his desire to seek justice on the murderer of Laius, the former king of Thebes. The mystery behind the identity of the killer of Laius serves as the backbone in Oedipus’s discovery of the truth, thus revealing Oedipus’s blindness and ignorance regarding his past. Therefore, the murder of his father is a key point in the plot of Oedipus Rex that helps develop the theme of blindness, both physical and metaphorical. This is seen when Oedipus states, “For whoever killed this man may soon enough desire to turn his hand in the same way against me, too, and kill me,” after learning that the reason for the famine in Thebes is because the murderer of Laius was never found, meaning the Laius’s death was never avenged (Sophocles 5). In this quote, Oedipus condemns the murderer of Laius to a cruel, yet just fate, without realizing that he is actually cursing himself. This demonstrates how the murder of Laius contributes in revealing the metaphorical blindness that Oedipus possesses due to his lack of knowledge about who he really is and who is biological parents are. The theme of blindness, seen through the unfolding of unknown aspects of Laius’s death, is also seen when Teiresias- a blind prophet brought in to reveal the murderer of Laius- states to Oedipus, “So I say this to you, since you have chosen to insult my blindness- you have your eyesight, and you do not see how miserable you are, or where you live, or who it is who shares your household,” after Oedipus chooses to insult Teiresias’s physical blindness (Sophocles 11). This quote demonstrates the metaphorical blindness that Oedipus possesses regarding the true nature of Laius’ murder, thus paving the way for Oedipus’s past to negatively impact his present, as he comes to eventually learn the truth.

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The entirety of Oedipus Rex is centered around the murder of the former king of Thebes, Laius. After hearing of Laius’s murder and his killer being the reason for the plague on Thebes, Oedipus’s action from that point on are solely motivated by his desire to seek justice for Laius and his city. This aspect of his past helps reveal the theme of self-discovery, a theme that plays a major role in the development of the story. The murder of Laius serves as a key aspect of the plot that leads to a chain of events that occur as a result. Because of the murder of Laius, Oedipus learns some keys aspect of his past that he was previously unaware of, thus contributing to the metaphorical blindness that he maintains for the greater portion of the play. This is seen when Teiresias states, “I say that you yourself are the very man you’re looking for,” thus revealing the truth (Sophocles 10). This quote reveals the stubbornness behind Oedipus’s nature, as Teiresias blatantly reveals the truth to him, yet Oedipus refuses to believe such a thing because his pride and ignorance act as the source of his haughtiness. He claims that everyone around him is blind, and that only he, himself, can see the truth. However, Oedipus discovers that he does not know who he really is, making him the one who is truly blind. This quote reveals how Sophocles makes Oedipus suffer a bit because he is unaware of his true origin, and almost restrains himself from discovering the truth due to the fear of Teiresias’ claims actually being true. Thus, this example helps connect Laius’s murder to the theme of blindness because it reveals that Oedipus has been unaware of who the person he is looking for really is, himself.

However, the murder of Laius is eventually able to shed some light on Oedipus’s origin and his role in the death of his father. Oedipus exclaims, “The worse for me! I may have just set myself under a dreadful curse without my knowledge!” (Sophocles 20). This quote is spoken after Oedipus learns, from his wife Jocasta, that Laius was killed in Phocis where two roads meet. Jocasta’s description of the place, as well as the way she illustrates Laius, help Oedipus finally put the pieces together. This quote signifies an awakening moment in Oedipus’s conscience in which he begins to shed his metaphorical blindness and, rather, act on his physical sight. Thus, this demonstrates the connection that Laius’s death had to the blindness that Oedipus is beginning to shed in light of the revelation of the truth behind his role in the murder, as well as his true identity.

The murder of Laius leads Oedipus on an unrelenting search for the truth, which proves to be the source of his downfall. Oedipus’s relationship with his past provides a contribution to the development of the theme of self-discovery, which is seen throughout the play. While Oedipus’s search for the truth becomes a pivotal aspect in the plot of the story that help the truth unfold, it also forces him to contend with some aspects of his past that prove to be crucial in the development of his identity. Thus, this unyielding desire to bring a sense of verisimilitude to the land of Thebes, as well as to his own household, inadvertently leads Oedipus on a path of self-discovery. FINISH

Sophocles once inquired, “Fear? What has a man to do with fear? Chance rules our lives, and the future is all unknown. Best live as we may, from day to day. This message, states by Sophocles, is one Oedipus, Jocasta, and Laius would have all done well to contend with. THIRD POINT

Oedipus Rex, a story known for its masterful display of Greek mythology, is such a uniquely written play in the sense that the main events of the plot are unfolded through the usage of the past to solve the mysteries of the present. It is through the events of the past that the main characters develop a concrete understanding of the inevitability of fate. The protagonist of the story, Oedipus, comes to fully understand the consequences of his unrelenting pursuit of the truth, and how that pursuit contributes to the development of the themes of blindness and self-discovery. it is through the murder of Laius that Oedipus soon discovers the truth of his past and his ignorance to aspects of his identity that he had previously been unaware of.

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