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World Literature. Oedipus the King by Sophocles Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Dec 14th, 2021

Introduction

Oedipus the king is a play written by Sophocles explaining the Greek culture in the ancient days. The play outlines the conflict between gods and the humans, in determining their destinies. At the beginning of the story it is well shown that there were sufferings of all kinds in Thebes. This was the result of a famine which contributed to weakness, starvation or death to the people. Because of starvation, there was a low birth rate; which could not cover the death rate leading to the death of flocks and herds. The Delphic Oracle informed that this famine served as a punishment from the gods for not having reattributed the murderer of the Oedipus royal predecessor (king Lauis); therefore, Oedipus ironically vowed to find the murderer. “Just as if Laius was my own father,” he claims that he would save Thebans from the plague as the Oracle had stated that the murderer must be identified and justice found.

Main text

In search of the murderer the blind foreseer Teiresias, revealed in a meeting with his sovereign Oedipus that he was the murderer. He points a finger to the murderer after reluctantly being asked to share what he knew. Even though he was insulted, threatened and bullied by the king; he ends up disclosing the information about the killer of king Lauis. The Theban king could not believe that he was the murderer even though he admitted committing a murder on his way to Thebes; since he thought he knew his life very well. He couldn’t believe that a king could behave aggressively and unintelligently regarding the correct way at a crossroad that made him kill him (Kennedy et al. p. 278 lines 413-430).

As the play continues, Oedipus starts suspecting himself as the murderer especially when Chorus told him about the supposed killing of Lauis by robbers. By his taking king Lauis’ throne and wife, means he took over his life. Jocasta told Oedipus that the oracle had informed Laius that he would be killed by his own child, “Laius and I were told that our baby would kill him and marry me”, as was said by Jocasta.

In the play, there are episodes of conflict, for example Oedipus conflicting with Creon and Tiresias because he believed he was not the murderer (Kennedy et al. p. 286 lines 607-614). But the central conflict is the Oedipus inner struggle with arrogance and self-centeredness, since he wanted to be praised for outwitting the plague by finding the murderer. In scene 4 page 1412, we see him struggling with prophesies of killing his father and marrying his own mother. He had thought that he was too smart to outwit the gods. It is the main conflict because; it’s a struggle between human freedom and the gods.

After Oedipus recognized his guilt he decided to blind himself. He was blind metaphorically at the beginning since he never knew the truth about his origin; but when he knew the truth, he blinded himself physically for him to see the truth as it was prophesied. He couldn’t stand to see the mother who he had slept with; the father he had killed and the children he bore with his mother. He used Jocasta’s golden brooches to pierce his eyes because his wife also had hanged herself, and he didn’t want to witness that.

Conclusion

Oedipus wanted to end the Thebans’ suffering by looking for the murderer as it had been prophesied. On knowing he was the murderer as was informed by the oracle, he ceased searching for the killer and blinded himself. The object of his search changed because he knew he was the son of Laius who he had killed; and that Polybos was not his father as he thought. He was advised by the leader to have enough evidences before concluding that he was the killer (Kennedy et al. p. 288 lines 691-698).

Work cited

Kennedy, X. & Gioia, Dana. Literature: “An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing”, Compact Edition (5th Edition). Longman. (Dec 10, 2006): 278- 1412

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