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Student Essays About Oedipuis

In Oedipus the King, are human beings presented as prisoners of fate?

Sophocles’ Oedipus the King doesn’t simply depict a man who discovers, to his horror, that he is powerless to direct his own life. Rather, the play offers an example of how individual human beings can find ways to assert their independence within the limits determined by their destiny. Fate certainly shapes characters’ lives in the play, but it does not determine them completely.

Prophecies consistently come true in Oedipus the King, which proves that fate is a real force in the world of the play. However, the paths humans take toward their pre-determined destinations remain for them to choose, as do the attitudes they adopt toward the gods’ decrees. Long before the play opens, Laius and Jocasta left their son for dead to thwart the terrible prophecy that he would someday kill his father and marry his mother. Similarly, when Oedipus learned of his fate, he fled Corinth, assuming that the prophecy applied to Polybus, the man he believed to be his biological father. In Oedipus the King, however, when Oedipus learns that it is he who must be cast out to save Thebes from the plague, he immediately agrees to submit to the decree and leave the city. His decision seems partially motivated by an intense sense of shame and horror, but throughout the play Oedipus has demonstrated his commitment to his people, and his choice of exile seems equally driven by his desire to see Thebes spared. The early choices he and his parents made may have been foolish and arrogant, but his final choice affords him a measure of tragic dignity. Sophocles’ play asserts that humans have the freedom to determine the quality of their own characters, if not always the outcomes of their lives.

Sophocles foregrounds the issue of human freedom by setting the play long after the initial prophecy has been fulfilled. When the play opens, Oedipus has been living happily with Jocasta and their four children for many years. The people of Thebes revere him as a wise and brave leader, a man who “lifted up [their] lives” by defeating the Sphinx. Except for the arrival of the plague, Oedipus seems to have a happy, prosperous life. By beginning the play here, at the height of Oedipus’s success, Sophocles not only makes Oedipus’s fall more dramatic and extreme: He also shows that the crucial issue is not whether the prophecy will come true—it already did, long ago—but how the great Oedipus will personally handle the revelation of his crimes. Tellingly, no gods appear in Oedipus the King, only humans. No divine figure forces Oedipus to seek out Laius’s murderer or subsequently cast himself out of Thebes. The oracle from Apollo represents the only divine influence in the play, and even then several levels of human messengers stand between the god’s words and Oedipus’s ears.

Perhaps most telling, Oedipus himself doesn’t see himself as powerless. From the beginning, Oedipus has an overwhelming sense of his own, individual power, as indicated by his constant use of the first-person pronouns I and me. “I am the land’s avenger,” he claims at one point. “I came by, Oedipus the ignorant, / I stopped the Sphinx!” he exalts. Oedipus is a man of vigorous action, as demonstrated by the way he relentlessly pursues the truth, even as it becomes clear the truth may implicate him. When he finally learns that he unwittingly fulfilled the very prophecy he spent his life trying to avoid, Oedipus does not submit to the gods or surrender his agency. He does their bidding—he “drive[s] the corruption from the land”—but he takes the situation one step further by deciding to blind himself first. When the Chorus asks what “superhuman power” drove him to commit such a horrible act, Oedipus exclaims, “The hand that struck my eyes was mine, / mine alone—no one else— / I did it all myself!” Oedipus does not seek to escape his punishment, but he does assert his right to exact that punishment as he sees fit. Even as he is brought low, Oedipus refuses to relinquish power over his own life and body.

Oedipus was saddled with a terrible curse through no fault of his own. In this sense, his fate is arbitrary. His actions, however, are not. Oedipus cannot escape the specific points of the prophecy, but that prophecy only determines the limits of his freedom. Within its scope, he is free to act as he chooses. In this sense, Oedipus resembles his daughter Antigone, who must decide whether to exercise her personal choice and bury her brother, Polynices, despite the fact that the law will certainly condemn her to death. Though Oedipus the King and Antigone were written over two millennia ago, they continue to offer us models of how individuals can and must exercise their freedoms of choice, even in the face of such powerful forces as law, fate, or the gods.

Oedipus the King

Oedipus the King is a play with Greek influences that some may need to take the time to learn more about in order to understand the origin of the play in further context. A general idea of the storyline includes learning about a strong man named Oedipus. He was walking along the side of a road when he was nearly run over by a man who is rich. This leads to the two men fighting with the rich man dying at the end of the battle. Oedipus continues on down the road and runs into a Sphinx that made people solve riddles before they could go further on the road. He answered it correctly and was crowned King of Thebes.

The play fast forwards to ten years later after Oedipus becomes king. There is a Chorus of citizens in unison about problems and concerns within their town. King Oedipus wants to help but Olympian Gods are not happy about the murder of their previous king and why it has been left unsolved. Kind Oedipus claims the killer will be brought to justice and punished no matter who they are. Then Oedipus learns from a psychic that he is the killer of the previous king and gives other disturbing news about him killing his father and marring his mother.

Oedipus was disturbed upon learning such claims but was haunted because he had learned years ago from prophesy that he would indeed murder his father and marry his mother, but he ran away upon learning this at a younger age. He later learned his father was dead and at this time Oedipus is married. He began to worry when his wife told him he had nothing to worry about and that sometimes such prophecies are not true. Later he learns from a shepherd about a baby that was found in the woods and taken back to Corinth where he was from to be raised by adopted parents.

Oedipus later put the pieces of the puzzle together to determine the man he had a fight with a while back on the side of the road was his father. He married the previous king’s wife who turned out to be his biological mother. The Chorus is in disbelief and pity as his biological mother hung herself and Oedipus took pins from her dress and gauged his eyes out with them.

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