Throughout the tragedy of Oedipus the King, the theme of fate isimminent. This conflicts with the free will for human action wherethe destiny of a person is determined, not solely by his or heractions, but also by the aspect of fate. The Greeks argued that fateplays a tremendous role in the determination of what befalls humanbeings (Sova 90). The primary question that comes up is what rolehuman actions and free will play in human life. If fate isresponsible for the events in human life, should people be blamed fortheir actions? According to the ancient Greeks, the gods would seethe future and they revealed this information to some people such aspastors and oracles. These people would later reveal such prophesiesto the affected people like they did to Oedipus and his parents,Laius and Jocasta.
Thesis: In the tragedy, “Oedipus the King”, the theme of fateand free will seem to dominate till the end and changing the courseof human tragedy is simply impossible.
The oracles had prophesied to Jocasta and Laius that their own sonwould kill Laius and eventually get married to Jocasta. This is aform of incest and it was an anti-social and unacceptable behavior inancient Greek. Notably, the culture still remains unacceptable tomany communities across the world. Therefore, in a bid to avoid thistragedy from happening, Oedipus parents decide to kill the newbornson and through him away in the grazing mountains. Fortunately, orunfortunately in this case, Oedipus was found by a grazer who tookhim to the king of Corinth where he was brought up. It is importantto note at this point that the parents were at free will to killtheir new-born son. However, as it will be found out later, thiswould lead to the fulfillment of their fate (Cornillon and Soline61). In ancient Greek, fate trumped on free will. In most instances,the choices that people made, which were in most cases aimed atavoiding fate, would eventually lead to the fateful events prophesiedby the gods. Even after Jocasta and Laius moved to Thebes, the fatewould still follow them. Their migration to another land is ademonstration of free will.
The theme of fate is exemplified in the play when Oedipus grows upand starts to look for ways of avoiding killing his father ormarrying his mother. Unknown to him is the fact that the parents helives with in Corinth are not his real parents. On the other hand,Laius and Jocasta believe that Oedipus died in the grazing mountains.Evidently, the parents and the son were trying their best to avoidthe fate. Gods in ancient Greek were extremely powerful and theirprophesies were hardly wrong (Sova 101). Although some scholars havedisputed the role of fate in determining the future of human beings,this tragedy has shown how fate cannot be avoided. Surprisingly,there seems to be no way of avoiding fate. Whereas free will is alsoexemplified in the play through the actions of the three majorcharacters, it is clear that their actions are futile. For example,the choice by Oedipus to find the truth about his true identity is astep towards realizing that the fate has been reached.
There are numerous instances in the play where the characters aretrying to outwit the gods and fate. As a consequence, they are beingseverely punished. For example, Jocasta alludes to the fact thatLaius was killed in a highway by thugs and therefore, there is no wayis own son would have killed him (Gale 85). However, when Jocasta andOedipus recount the events of the murder, Oedipus starts to find somecorrelation. Therefore, their attempt to cheat fate gets thempunished. Furthermore, Jocasta and Oedipus attempted, in variousoccasions, to portray the gods as being wrong in their forecasting.For example, when the Corinth King, Polybus, dies a natural death,Jocasta is quick to assert that the gods were wrong. The fate in theentire play is brought to light when the messenger from Corinthreveals to Oedipus that the King and his wife from Corinth are nothis true parents. Consequently, Oedipus is worried and starts tobelieve that the fate might be true.
All the actions in the play are geared towards exemplifying thetheme of fate versus free will. The plague that affected Thebesrequired the killer of Laius to be identified. This responsibilitywas at the hands of the king, at this time, Oedipus. When it isrevealed to him by Tiresias that he is the killer through thefollowing words in page 417, “You cannot imagine, I tell you, youand your loved ones live together in infamy, you cannot see how faryou`ve gone in guilt”, Oedipus is devastated. His choice to findout the truth in a bid to save the kingdom has resulted in therealization of the facts he was avoiding to know (Gale 74). It isclear he is now married to his own mother and they have cursedchildren as it was forecasted by the gods through the oracles.
It is imperative to mention that the play was written in the 14thcentury. As such, it would have been extremely difficult to usescience such as DNA testing to identify the true identity of aperson. Therefore, Oedipus fate could have been avoided by the use ofadvanced technology. Furthermore, it is clear from the events of theplay that Oedipus was innocent. His parents hatched the plan to killhim in order to avoid the fate. His actions are aimed at safeguardinghis parents. He does not want to kill his father nor sleep with hismother. In the 14th century, people relied on religion forthe explanation of human events. This was mainly because science washardly developed and men needed answers regarding certain happenings.The play, “Oedipus the King”, should be viewed as a demonstrationof the belief systems that were prevalent in the Greek history.
People have always had free will and the power to determine theirfuture. Even though the human actions prior to the realization of thetragedy in the play seem to yield the opposite results, it is clearthat the decision by Jocasta to end her life was her choice.Furthermore, Oedipus decision to gouge out his eyes was a personalchoice based on free will. It is evident that the role of the gods isto set the fate and allow people to act at free will (Cornillon andSoline 84). The play’s main themes of fate and free will areintegrated into the entire events and characters of the play. Oneaspect that is clear is the effects of trying to alter the fate thathas been determined by the gods. Had Jocasta not tried to alter thefate, may be Laius would be the only person would have died. However,her attempts to circumnavigate the fate led to her death and thedevastation of her son who spent the rest of his life blind.
While concluding, it is clear that the main themes of the play arefate and free will. Even though it was set in the 14thcentury, the insights by the play are relevant to date. As much asthere have been tremendous changes in science and technology, thereare still some events that scientists cannot explain. This is thebasis of the play that sought to explain the tragedies that befallpeople. However, the primary question still remains to be the role ofhuman actions in the determination of one’s destiny. The play hasportrayed the human actions and choices as useless. In other words,the choices of the main characters in the play only play out towardsthe fulfillment of the prophecy. The attempted murder of Oedipus byhis parents, the migration of Oedipus into Thebes look like eventsthat were part of the fate. Interestingly, these are actions that areaimed at avoiding the fate. In the contemporary world, such prophecymay not work and only a few communities especially in Africa thatmight believe such events can happen as prophesied. Free will andchoices cannot be said to be futile and not affecting human course.
Cornillon, Claire and Soline, Dorlodot. Oedipus the King bySophocles: Book Analysis, 2016. Print.
Gale. Study guide for Sophocles’ "Oedipus rex (aka Oedipusthe king)." Detroit: Cengage learning, 2013. Print.
Sova, Dawn B. Banned Plays: Censorship Histories of 125 StageDramas. New York: Facts on File, 2014. Print.