Oedipus Rex Complex Character

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Updated: Jun 14, 2022
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Themes are a key factor to have in stories. They express a lesson, message, or point of view of the author. A theme can connect all parts of a story. The theme of sight, physically and metaphorically, is heavily used in one of Sophocles Theban plays; “Oedipus the King”. This play tells the story of King Oedipus and his quest to lift a plague off of his city. Through out the story, Oedipus is ignoring the truths that are told to him.

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Ultimately, when finally facing the truth, he gouges his eyes out, blinding himself and is banned from the city. Another piece of writing that contains strong themes of sight is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. 

In this writing, Plato tells the story of prisoners who have been been chained inside a cave unable to turn their heads. All they see are shadows casted on the wall in front of them, and a fire for light is behind them. This is their life and their only “truth”, but, a prisoner escapes and sees the outside world. They are seeing the real “truth” and go back to tell the other prisoners about what they saw. In these two writings, the theme of blindness and sight are heavily used to describe not only physical sight, but the “mental” and “emotional” sight of truth to convey the overall lack of self awareness of the characters in these stories.

In Sophocle’s play, “Oedipus the King”, Sophocles tells the story of a King who sends his brother-in-law Creon to identify the cause of a plague that has struck the city of Thebes. Creon finds that the oracle states the plague will only be lifted if the man who killed the former king, Laius, who was murdered years ago, is found and brought to justice. Oedipus is desperate to find the culprit, “Whoever he is, a lone man unknown in his crime…let that man drag out his life in agony…I curse myself as well…if by any chance he proves to be an intimate of our house…” (Sophocles 172). Oedipus is cursing the murderer of the former king, but he has not realized that the murderer is in fact himself.

Oedipus goes on to question citizens, including a blind prophet, Tieresias. Tieresias informs Oedipus that Oedipus himself had killed Laius and when Oedipus does not believe him, Tiresias tells him that he is “…blind to the corruption of your life, to the house you live in, those you live with- who are your parents? Do you know?” (Sophocles 183). Tiresias is telling Oedipus that he is blind to the truth of his own life. Oedipus ignores this and ridicules Tiresias and leaves. Oedipus is choosing to not see the truth that is in front of him. It is ironic because Sophocles is using a blind prophet, someone who can not physically see, to show Oedipus his reality and help him solve the mystery of the plague.

In Plato’s story The Allegory of the Cave, Plato tells a story of prisoners who have been chained in a cave, only able to see what is ahead of them. Plato states that this story is to “…illustrate the degrees in which our nature may be enlightened or unenlightened” (Plato 1). In front of these prisoners is the cave wall and they can see shadows being casted. They do not know that these are shadows being casted by marionette players behind them, in front of a fire. These shadows are their truth and only truth. Plato tells Glaucon “…the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images” (1). The prisoners are some what blinded from the “truth”. They do not know that the shadows they see before them are nothing but shadows. That is all they have known and they have been blind to reality their whole lives, “In every way, then, such prisoners would recognize as reality nothing but the shadows of those artificial objects” (Plato 2). The shadows are the prisoner’s “truth”. Much like King Oedipus, they are blinded by what they want to believe versus the actual truth, which for the prisoners, is the outside world.

In Sophocle’s play, Oedipus soon starts to realize the reality of his doings. As he is talking to his wife, Jocasta, about what the prophet had said, he realizes he may be guilty, “I think I’ve just called down a dreadful curse upon myself- I simply didn’t know!…I have a terrible fear the blind seer can see…” (Sophocles 203). Oedipus now states that he fears Tiresias can “see”, meaning that Tiresias metaphorically sees the actual truth- Oedipus had murdered the former king who was actually his father and Jocasta is his mother. Jocasta eventually hangs herself after this revelation. Finally, Oedipus is seeing the truth and is no longer blinded by the fear he had. He is so horrified, he blinds himself, “…he digs [long gold pins] down the sockets of his eyes, crying ‘…you’ll see no more the pain I suffered, all the pain I caused!…blind to the ones you longed to see…blind from this hour on! Blind in the darkness- blind!’” (Sophocles 237). Oedipus ultimately becomes the very thing he has been, metaphorically, this whole story; blind.

In Plato’s allegory, the prisoners, too, become “unblind”- at least some of them. Plato explains what would happen if prisoners were released, “…when any of them is liberated and compelled to… turn his neck around…look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains: the glare will distress him” (Plato 2). The prisoner now has a clearer vision of what was in front of him all along. Then the prisoner is brought out of the cave, under the sun. The prisoner will be enlightened by this new outside world, “He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world,” Plato explains, “…he will see the shadows, next the reflections in the water, and then the objects themselves” (2).

The prisoner is now realizing that his truths in the cave were merely an illusion and that this, what he sees now, is reality. Much like King Oedipus, the prisoner only thought he understood the reality of their world. They were simply just perceiving shadows of the true forms of things from the real world. The freed prisoner would then feel sorry for the other prisoners still stuck in the cave, “…when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?” (Plato 3). The prisoner returns to the cave and is somewhat blinded because of the sunlight he had to endure outside of the cave. The prisoners would infer that his trip outside of the cave had harmed him and not want to leave. They will continue to be blinded by these false realities unlike their fellow prisoner who had been freed.

Altogether, Sophocles’s play and Plato’s allegory both speak of metaphorical and also physical blindness. This theme of blindness versus sight and knowledge versus ignorance plays an important part in both stories. In the beginning, characters are “blind” and unknowing of an overall truth. Eventually, they are forced to see their truth and given the opportunity to explore it. While the freed prisoner from Plato’s cave chooses to delve into his truth, Oedipus simply can not bare his own truth, causing him to mutilate himself. These characters were simply ignoring any other truth other than the ones they simply want to believe but eventually are enlightened. 

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Oedipus Rex Complex Character. (2022, Feb 09). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/oedipus-rex-complex-character/