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Sophocles` “Oedipus Rex” and “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell Essay

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Updated: Dec 5th, 2021

A work of literature can be discussed from several standpoints, such as for instance, historical, political, ethical, historical, feminist, etc. There is a widely held opinion that psychological approach is the most of effective way of analysis because it provides a room for discussion and various interpretations. The development of psychological science has radically changed modern views on literature. Nonetheless, it should be pointed out literary analysis from psychological perspectives has certain standards, which must be met; otherwise the validity of the data can be easily questioned. It is possible to apply this method to such plays as Sophocles “Oedipus Rex” and “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell.

Sophocles tragedy has always been considered as one of the best works of ancient Greek literature. To a certain degree, it is quite possible to say that the author laid foundations of psychoanalysis (though unwillingly). For example, while developing his theory Sigmund Freud often referred to this play, namely to the so-called Oedipal complex.

Any person, who discusses Oedipus Rex from psychological perspective, should take into consideration that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the conclusions may be only hypothetical; it is permissible to speak only about probability but not about certainty, mostly because there is reliable information about the author. The same principle goes for Trifles, although this play is traditionally discussed within the frames of feminist movement. It should be taken into account the author makes the reader form his or her own conclusions, therefore, it is very difficult to analyze this work only from psychological perspective.

First, it is of the vital importance to pay extra attention to the author and particularly to the peculiarities of his or her character. In this respect, it should be noted that very little is known about Sophocles and his life, let only his inner world. The only thing that scholars know almost for a fact is his relationships with Aeschylus. At the beginning of his career, Sophocles was inclined to imitate his dramatic manner; however, soon he developed his own style. However, this information is clearly insufficient for psychological analysis. The question arises, what prompted the author to write this tragedy. What were the most stressing problems that Sophocles wanted to explore in his work. Probably, they were connected with his own life. It seems that it is more prudent to discuss this question from philosophical point of view, because Sophocles explores such themes as the relationship between freewill and destiny.

Moreover, this tragedy may be analyzed within political standpoint, particularly tyranny. It is believed that the political situation in the then Greek society affected Sophocles worldview. Psychological research methods require first-hand evidence, which is impossible to get in this particular case. Naturally, some hypotheses may be formulated about the personality of the author; under no circumstances they can be regarded as facts.

Certainly literary critics and psychologists know much more about Susan Glaspell, yet the motives, which drove her to compose her play, are ambiguous. It is believed that her work is mostly motivated by the development of feminist movement however; this play cannot be reduced only to gender problems, because the author explores some other problems particularly the perception of reality. She proves that very often people should never be one hundred percent sure of their rectitude as it is in the case of Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, who are trying to investigate a mysterious murder in order to find the culprit, but soon they understand that their actions may ruin life of an innocent person.

The main reason why Oedipus Rex is so often discussed from psychological perspective is the themes, which the author analyzes in his work, particularly, lust for domination, and inability to question ones own judgment. These are the factors, which shape the behavior of the main character. Furthermore, psychologist often refer to the so-called oedipal complex; however, it appears that Freudian interpretation of human psychology should not be regarded a universal way to interpret any work of literature. It seems that, it is hardly applicable even to Oedipus Rex, because sexual desire is not the most dominant motif in this tragedy.

While discussing Sophocles play within the context of Freudian psychology, it is necessary to single out the main principles of this approach. According to the famous therapist, the behavior of every person is shaped by two factors, the instinct of self-preservation (or the fear of death) and sexual or erotic desire. Judging from the development of the plot, Oedipus is mostly driven by Eros, the sexuality. First, he murders his father (though unknowingly), secondly, he marries his mother Iocasta. As Dr. Freud believed every person (or male to be more exact) feels sexual desire for his mother, at least subconsciously. It may seem that such explanation is quite applicable to this play.

Nevertheless, many literary critics do not agree with such interpretation of Oedipus Rex. They advance the following counter-argument: besides the storyline, there is virtually no evidence, suggesting that the protagonist’s behavior was influenced by love for his mother. In fact, each step that he makes is motivated by his care for his parents. Oedipus primary concern is to disprove oracle’s prophecy but not vice versa, as it is often stated by the supporters of psychotherapy.

Textual evidence, indicate that the major psychological issue, which Sophocles addresses, is the concept of blindness (or ignorance, to be more exact). Psychologists have always stated that perception of reality is always subjective, that is why a person should never be firmly convinced of his or her rectitude. Oedipus believes that he pursues a noble cause, and he is reluctant to accept the views of other people. He even derides Teiresias saying that it is very unlikely “a blind man” can know the truth (Sophocles, 88). Throughout the text, Sophocles analyzes the conflict between the knowledge and ignorance, truth and illusion. He shows that even the most intelligent person (as for instance Oedipus) may be gravely mistaken in his judgment. His actions, though they are motivated by good intention, bring only harm to other people.

This problem is also reflected in Susan Glaspell’s play. Mrs., Hale and Mrs. Peters are trying to assist the police in the investigation of a murder case. Soon they understand, who has committed this crime Mrs. Wright, this woman killed her husband, who abused her. Yet, they also understand that this woman, Mrs. Wright deserves a better life. Although, the main characters learn the truth, they choose to conceal it. Susan Glaspell shows that even pursuing a noble cause, we may still hurt other innocent people. The playwright emphasizes the fact that even the cleverest people may fall victim to a delusion. It seems, this is one of the features that these plays have in common.

To conclude, psychological approach as a method of literary analysis has certain drawbacks; in particular, it requires first-hand evidence, which is often extremely difficult to obtain, especially it concerns Sophocles play Oedipus Rex. Secondly, it should be mentioned that it is mostly based on induction: and the researcher may only advance hypothetical statements, but it is hardly possible to speak with any certainty. Additionally, according to the principles of psychology and philosophy, the perception of any literary work depends upon the personality of the reader; it is subjective (and subsequently biased) in its core. However, it has to be admitted that psychological analysis has certain advantages, namely, it enables to identify the key drivers of the main character’s behavior, and his or relations with other people. Yet, it should be borne in mind that other approaches must not be disregarded because psychological interpretation cannot reflect all the complexity of such works as Oedipus Rex or Trifles. The main question or problem, which Sophocles and Susan Glaspell analyze, is human perception of reality, particularly the morality or immorality of ones actions. Both playwrights intend to prove that a human beings must never adamant in his or hers beliefs because otherwise they may destroy lives of other people.


Sophocles, Dudley Fitts, Robert Fitzegarld. Oedipus Rex. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002.

Susan Glaspell, Stephen R. Mandell, Donna Winchell, Laurie G. Kirszner. “Trifles”. Thomson Wadsworth, 2003.

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