You called me blind but you have your eyes but see not where you live in sin (KO 37). In the play Oedipus the King, Sophocles tells a story about a man who blindly reaches his long-awaited fate. Throughout the development of this story, many tragedies occur. This play is recognized as a tragedy because of Oedipus’ journey of a tragic hero including his rise to power, hamartia, and tragic downfall, the tragic irony of the audience’s awareness of his fate, and the tragic action of his defeat.
Oedipus displays characteristics of a tragic hero as he beholds power as the king of Thebes, yet his hamartia leads to his destruction as he stumbles upon the truth about his past. Initially, his power is revealed when the citizens of Thebes refer to him as the greatest of men because he saves their beloved city when he kills the sphinx. Additionally, they ask him to restore our city to life during the disastrous plague (KO 26). Due to the confidence that the people of Thebes have in him, Oedipus begins the play in high stature. He is a renowned king and gains the love and appreciation of his people by powerfully leading the city of Thebes. Oedipus’ influence signifies the respect and the reliance that the citizens of the kingdom invest in him. In comparison, Louis Charles wrote an article describing the reasons why Death of a Salesman is a tragedy. Similar to Oedipus, the main character, Willy, is considered a tragic hero because of his high power which made his downfall significant.
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These two examples correlate because of the similarities between the journeys of both protagonists in each writing. Like Willy, Oedipus does not remain in his high position throughout the story but begins his demise first through his hamartia. Hamartia is a fatal flaw that leads to the downfall of a tragic hero and Oedipus illustrates this with his conceit. Oedipus’ arrogance is discovered when Tiresias attempts to proclaim his fate. In the confrontation, Oedipus continuously denies the truth as he replies back, It has – but not for you; no, not for you, Shameless and brainless, sightless, senseless sot! (KO 36). Oedipus’ ego develops into his defining character flaw which hinders his ability to accept his fate. Not only does he display this attitude towards Tiresias, but he exhibits the same attitude to the gods as well. Finally, the tragic downfall of Oedipus is seen when he discovers the truth about his family, exiling himself from Thebes. Before his banishment, he declares that the people will never see the crime [he has] committed (KO, 68). Oedipus gouges his eyes out and becomes blind, like Tiresias, and loses his power as king. He is exiled from Thebes and experiences the final element of a tragic hero, peripety: a sudden and unexpected change of fate. As the messenger gives evidence of Oedipus’ fate, Oedipus whole life is changed. Thus, Oedipus reveals himself as a tragic hero through these circumstances.
Before the entrance of the characters, the audience already knows the outcome of the story, even before the character himself does. This is known as tragic irony, and it is what makes this classic play such a riveting tragedy. For example, as Oedipus tries to solve Laius’ murder he threatens, He will suffer the less. His fate will be nothing worse than banishment (KO 31). Due to Oedipus’s persistence to finding the murderer, he condemns them to be banished from Thebes. Unbeknownst to him, he is dooming himself by trying to find the assassin, for he fails to realize the future consequences of this decree.
In addition, as he was looking, he states, the killer of Laius, whoever he was might think to turn his hand against me: Thus serving Lauis I serve myself (KO 29). This quote demonstrates Oedipus’ blindness because he says this without realizing that, as the prophecy first proclaimed, he was Lauis’ killer. The irony is that he is so focused on finding the killer when in reality it is himself. He is so wrapped around this crime that he does not listen to other people’s claims. Additionally, he claims to fight for him [Laius] now, as I would fight for my father (KO 30). Oedipus indicates the graveness of Laius’ murder unaware of the hidden truth, for he refers to his father as a comparison but does not realize the reality that his is Laius’ son. This is yet another example of Oedipus’ blindness. Through tragic irony Oedipus eventually finds his fate.
Oedipus and Jocasta face many obstacles on their journey as they realize the foul actions they unknowingly commit. Jocasta and Oedipus finally acknowledge the truth of the prophecy realizing that Oedipus killed his father, Laius, and married his mother Jocasta. Upon revealing her true relation with Oedipus, Jocasta proclaims light let this be the last time I see you (KO 69). After putting the pieces together and realizing Oedipus’ true identity, Jocasta locks herself in her bedroom, crying, as she hangs herself from a noose and commits suicide. She cannot cope with the embarrassment from the people of Thebes and the karma from cursing the gods. Despite attempting to kill her son and rejecting the prophecy, she was still unable to overcome fate. Likewise, Oedipus removes his eyes when he uncovers his past saying, be dark forever how eyes that saw these you should have never seen (KO 73). Oedipus feels he has no one to trust anymore. Since he was born, everything he has seen seems like an evil lie.
He believes his eyes have failed him, removing them in disgust. He can not handle seeing the world after hearing the unvarnished truth of his sin. Oedipus requests in agony, Banish me from this country as fast as you can (KO 79). Oedipus’ karma for his grave sin results in his banishment from the city of Thebes. Although his people do not force anything upon him, Oedipus banishes himself. Similarly to Jocasta, he cannot take the embarrassment he will receive when his people find out. Oedipus’ downfall is finished Oedipus the King is a tragedy because of its presence of a tragic hero, tragic irony, and tragic action.
Oedipus is considered a tragic hero because of the power he has in the beginning of the play, his arrogance which causes him to fall from his station, and his downfall which ended in his tragedy. Further, through the audience’s knowledge of plot elements that the character’s themselves do not know, a tragic irony is established, as readers await Oedipus’ eventual demise. These characteristics, evident throughout the writing of Oedipus the King and ending in the downfall of the once renowned, Oedipus, cement the play as a tragedy.
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