Oedipus Rex: Blinded by Fate
In Oedipus Rex the theme of blindness and vision refers to the knowledge and insight or lack of it that the characters suffer. Fate is another strong theme. In attempting to escape his fate, Oedipus only becomes more deeply entwined with it – he is blind to and bound by his own fate. In contrast, the narrator in Truth Unwanted feels able to reject the constraints of fate, because he has instead decided to follow his heart.
Oedipus Rex contains many instances of tragic irony, in scenes where the audience is shown the true circumstances of the situation, and can clearly see that tragedy will result when the characters find out as well. For example, there are several instances where Oedipus “dooms himself” by announcing what will happen when the king’s murderer is discovered: “And on the murderer this curse I lay (On him and all the partners in his guilt): Wretch, may he pine in utter wretchedness!” Another example of this is how Oedipus runs from the prophecy he is given, not knowing that he is in fact running straight to the only place where the prophecy can be fulfilled. Believing Polybus to be his natural father, he leaves his house, and then encounters and kills King Laius, who is of course his natural father, although he has no way of knowing this at the time.
Not only is Oedipus bound to his fate, he is also blind to it. Oedipus is said to be clear-sighted, but circumstances have blinded to the truth of his birth. Even after hearing that King Laius was murdered at the same crossroads where he murdered an unknown man, and then that Polybus is not his natural father, Oedipus still does not recognize the truth. When, after hearing testimony from the shepherd, he finally does understand, he physically blinds himself so that he doesn’t have to face it.
Sean Quinlan’s poem Truth Unwanted also explores the concept of fate and how one can feel trapped by such a concept. However, unlike Oedipus, who is bound by fate and cannot escape it, the narrator in Truth Unwanted has decided that his fate is “still to be decided”.
The narrator seems to be making a choice between the dictates of fate, and the freedom of choosing to love, of the “pursuit of heart”, and says that choosing love is a kind of rejection of the bounds of fate. The narrator feels that his heart is “choosing its own path” and that while fate may perhaps be written already, how he gets there is up to him. Relating this to Oedipus is interesting, because Oedipus himself was unable to separate fate from the actions that brought him to his fate, because they were one and the same. In addition, it was his fate to marry his own mother, and it seems from the play itself that this was a political marriage rather than anything else. If love was the thing that would set Oedipus free of fate, it seems he did not get the opportunity to find it.
Oedipus is unable to escape his fate. As shown, he has tried to escape it, but only ends up becoming more firmly enmeshed in it. Eventually, he tries to escape his fate by blinding himself to the truth. When ultimately he is forced to realize that the prophecy has been fulfilled despite his efforts to prevent it, he responds by taking an action which symbolically blinds him to it permanently.
Quinlan, Sean. Truth Unwanted.
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Retrieved April 21, 2006 from <http://classics.mit.edu/Sophocles/oedipus.html>.
SparkNotes. The Oedipus Plays. Retrieved April 21, 2006 from <http://www.sparknotes.com/drama/oedipus/index.html>
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