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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Oedipus Rex Analysis

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, though at first seems to be the story of a king attempting to save his city from the brink of collapse, is more focused on the message of how fate is inescapable by no man, regardless of the actions that he may take to change it. The play explains that the city of Thebes is suffering from a plague of some sort, though it is never explicitly explained of what exactly is causing the city to fall to its knees. As the story progresses, the reader then begins to realize that this so called ‘plague’ is not one of a physical illness that shuts down one’s vital organs, but instead acts a metaphor for the social and religious turmoil happening in the background of the story. Despite this, the protagonist of the story still considers the near collapse of the city as a sickness rather than a social issue. This was likely to further connect to the audience and provide a better understanding of how dire the situation currently is. Since we never actually see this city in the story, the words of the characters are purposefully exaggerated to create a sense of urgency.

According to the play, the only way to supposedly find a way to fix the illness that is plaguing the city of Thebes is for the protagonist Oedipus, king of the very city falling in ruin, to find the people who had murdered a man named Laius, the former king of Thebes and the father of our protagonist.  Though some interpretations of the show like to display the main character as a tyrant who simply ignores the knowledge of the oracles in order to retain his rule, the majority of the play shows Oedipus as the ideal image of a leader of the Greek Democracy, as he appears to place the will of the people and the care of the city he rules above many of the other characters in the show.

However, the state of denial that Oedipus proves to be his major flaw, as demonstrated numerous times throughout the show. For him, showing the people that the prophecy stated by the oracles becomes almost like an obsession. It consumes his character the further the play goes on, with a large part of his calm demeanor disappearing by the final act. And by the time that Oedipus finally discovers the truth of the prophecy fulfilling itself despite all of his attempts to prove otherwise, he fully succumbs to the madness that his obsession had been building towards since the very beginning, to the point where he curses fate itself and demands that to be banished from the very city that he sought to save at the very beginning of the show.

Though when reading the show, one begins to wonder how much of the events of this prophecy were the direct result of Oedipus and the people that he interacted with. The prophecy was made of choices that Oedipus could make himself, but also contained factors that could not be controlled by him. For instance, he was unable to control the fact a shepherd would come choose to take the child that Laius would attempt to abandon in an attempt to prevent the prophecy from coming true. However, it could also be argued that Oedipus directly contributed to the prophecy by choosing to murder the man who would be his father in cold blood, or by willingly seeking knowledge as to prove the oracles wrong. The prophecy itself could have been prevented in a variety of different ways, but the direct efforts of Oedipus attempting to disprove it ultimately proves to be the main factor that actually makes it come true, causing the downfall of the main character.

And the tragic downfall of a once great leader comes to its grisly conclusion as Oedipus discovers the truth that he not only murdered his father, but had also committed acts of incest by marrying his mother and becoming the king of Thebes. The oracles who had warned him that Oedipus himself was the cause of the plague that had fell upon the city, that Oedipus himself mocked for being unable to see, were able to see through the denial and pride that he had at the beginning of the story. Unable to face his actions, Oedipus gouges his eyes out after witnessing his mother’s lifeless body hanging in their bedroom, a representation on how blind that he had been since the very beginning. His demands to be exiled symbolize a desire to wish that he was not born into a family where such a prophecy could come true. As the show ends, the voice of the people, although horrified with the actions that Oedipus had committed in order to take the throne, still feel some semblance of sympathy towards him.

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