Characters sometimes feel the need to take control of destiny, and it does not always go in their favor. Many of them want to feel the power that they can change fate. Believing that you can beat the odds and that you have the power to change prophecies leads to becoming a tragic flaw. An example of this is Oedipus Rex written by Sophocles.
The characters of a tragic hero are portrayed in this play in many ways. In this story, Oedipus was given a prophecy in the beginning and he lived out his life trying to avoid it. Throughout, it is shown how difficult nearly impossible it is to change fate, but that does not stop Oedipus from trying. Even though Oedipus believes he is controlling his destiny, his decisions and actions are dictated by fate because a prophecy was written, he attempted to change his fate and failed, and his tragic flaw caused him to fulfill his destiny.
Oedipus Rex grew up in a place named Corinth and his parents were the king and queen, but throughout his life he had doubts about who he was and went out to look for answers. He went and saw the priest of Phoebus and he told Oedipus that the king and queen of Corinth were not his real parents. Rather than telling Oedipus who his parents were, the priest just went on to say his prophecy. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus was given three main prophecies that he was going to fulfill throughout his life. His fate was set upon killing his father and wedding his mother.
When Oedipus learned what he was meant to do by the oracle he did everything he could to prevent it, since he lived his life in Corinth he decided to flee his home to avert the prophecy. Oedipus wanted to leave the place he grew up in to protect his father as it is stated, “But never let my father’s city be condemned to have me living here while I still live.”(Sophocles, 37). In his attempt to put a stop to this and leave, without knowing, this action led him to being completing his predictions one by one. Oedipus had a tendency to want to take things into his own hands. Isaiah Wilson (2013) explains Oedipus struggle by commenting, “ His tragic flaw causes him to fall from prosperity to misery through a series of reversals and discoveries.”
Oedipus believed that he knew the solution to all his problems. He made hasty decisions without fully thinking them through, or thinking about the repercussions that would come after them. Knowing that Oedipus had power led him to do things of his free will and try and control everything and everyone. One step at a time he began to take more and more leadership, as he was on his own and believed that no one would be able to stop him. He threatened and killed people without knowing who exactly they were of thinking of the consequences that would follow.
Little did he know that when he left his home and his family, he was just getting closer to making his prophecy true. He took the path to Thebes and killed along the way, and did not give a second thought as to what he just did, which was kill his real father, Laius. When he arrived to Thebes, obstacles faced him, but he showed bravery, overcame them, and gained the trust of people. Oedipus was an unfamiliar, but as Karin de Boer (2013) explains, “Sophocles’ play deals with a pollution that is caused from within rather than from without: although Oedipus appears to be a stranger to Thebes, it turns out that he is the son of the former king and queen.” Everyone was astonished at what Oedipus had done and before anyone knew, “Unaware of his kinship, Oedipus claimed the widowed queen, Jocasta, as his wife.”(Patricia Lines, 1999).
The more Oedipus went on to find out about his past and where he came from, the worse it would get. During his journey he finds Tiresias, a blind prophet, and he tells Oedipus that what he’s looking for is right in front of his face. Of course, Oedipus payed no attention to what was being told to him and continued to do things his own way, and take control of the situation himself. He had no idea that what Tiresias said would have helped him find out who he really was and where exactly he came from. Tiresias was frustrated as he states, “How dreadful it can be to have wisdom when it brings no benefit to the man possessing it.” (Sophocles, 9).
Oedipus began to fear what he was going to encounter, because he knew that what Tiresias had to say made more sense than what he was creating in his own head. Oedipus states, “I feared Apollo’s prophecy might reveal itself to me.” (Sophocles, 26). Surely enough, it did when he discovered more things about his life, for example, learning that his parents were not his birth parents. Oedipus gained more clues but did not know how to put the puzzle together. The answers were shown to him, but did not believe what anyone said until he found out the truth for himself. This proved that the harder Oedipus would try to find answers, the farther away he was to getting them.
In the beginning of the play, Oedipus is loved and cherished by the people of Thebes. He was viewed as a hero by everyone for saving them from the sphinx. The people praised and trusted him immediately, as if Oedipus had been king for years. Oedipus in this moment felt that he could rule the world and wanted to continue to help his people. Everyone quickly came to find out about the death of King Laius and then Oedipus was appointed as king. “After Oedipus became King of Thebes, Delphi spoke again, suggesting that the only way to end a severe blight plaguing Thebes was to avenge the murder of the former king, Laius.”(Patricia Lines, 1999).
Without knowing that Oedipus himself was the reason for all this destruction he set out to find the killer of King Laius. He began to set rules for the people in order to find the killer as explained when he states, “… that no one in this land, in which I rule as your own king, shall give the killer shelter or talk to him…” (Sophocles, 7). He had a variety of strict rules that everyone must follow in order to continue the quest to find the mystery. Seeing how he had killed men on his way to Thebes should have given Oedipus a clue that he himself might be a suspect in this mystery.
The starting point of his downfall is when it was revealed who the true killer of King Laius was and who had betrayed everyone, Oedipus. They sought to find this mysterious person who only had evil in them, but never expected to find out it was their own king who killed their previous king. The people found out that the killer was leading them all along and beside them through this investigation. All of the people, along with Jocasta and Oedipus’ whole family, were in complete shock at the outcome of this search, Oedipus himself could not wrap his head around it.
They believed that they knew their king and had full faith in him, since it was Oedipus that had once saved them as well. After that the people quickly became fully aware that Oedipus can not be trusted, and anything he would do would be under suspicion. Oedipus began to realize all the destruction he was causing to not only himself, but everyone else and “Oedipus gives up his determination to set the world straight and accepts fate, retaining his noble qualities despite the blows of bad fortune” (Patricia M. Lines, 1999). Oedipus took a long time to come to accept the damage he had done and “Oedipus finally realizes the true meaning of the events that mark his life and that of Thebes. He realizes that he himself has caused not just the prosperity of Thebes…”(Karin de Boer, 2013).
The people of Thebes were in disbelief that Oedipus their king had committed such heinous crimes, and was able to keep it a secret from everyone. They all believed that they were going to be following a perfect king who would always do right by them, but were sadly incorrect. Feeling hopeless the people said “I found my life and breathed again, and then through you my eyesight failed.” (Sophocles, 32). When it is said that their eyesights failed stands for not being able to understand or not being able to believe the result of the madness. Secrets began to become uncovered and Oedipus showed his true colors to the people. They were all still confused how everything came to be. Karin de Boer(2013) explains how everything goes down when she states, “The actual play then shows us how Oedipus tries to discover the cause of the pollution and finally realizes that all traces lead to himself. No one is to blame for Thebes’ second crisis except the man whose first act consisted in liberating the city from an archaic form of terror (the Sphinx) and hence allowed Thebes to prosper for many years.”
What is also learned about Oedipus is that he is a tragic hero and as Jeffrey R. Wilson (2019) states, “One of the most meaningful elements of tragedy as understood by the ancient Greeks, hamartia refers to the ‘error’ or ‘mistake’ a protagonist makes which, of necessity, brings catastrophe.” I means that it is the mistake being made by a character and how in the end their flaw leads them to their failure. In Oedipus Rex, the characteristics of a tragic hero are portrayed in many ways by the king himself, Oedipus. The reasoning for Oedipus fulfilling his prophecy is because of his hamartia. Oedipus fulfills each point of a tragic hero archetype by being loved by everyone and seen as a hero.
Secondly, having a downfall caused by their tragic flaw, which for Oedipus was being overly confident and wanting to be in control of everything. After it is realizing the cause of the downfall which always ends up being because of their hamartia. In the end tragic heroes always die because their flaws and actions lead them to it. Jeffrey Wilson (2019) talks about different traits it takes for a character to be a tragic hero when he list, “Tragedy, which addresses the tragic hero’s ‘weakness or defect’ (29), a ‘tragic trait, which […] is fatal to him’ (21), a ‘marked one-sidedness, a predisposition in some particular direction’ (20), a ‘marked imperfection or defect…” A flaw is something a hero does and their actions, meaning the tragic hero makes their own decisions and has full ability to do what they want, but fate is what leads him to those decisions.
Realizing that Oedipus himself was the cause of all that has gone wrong in his life was difficult for him to comprehend. Throughout the play he tried to deny anything that he was told and tried to figure out the truth about his past on his own. He believed that after he learned about his prophecy, he made all the right moves in order to avoid killing his father and wedding his mother. Oedipus was destroyed after learning what he had done, as Paul Magee (2012) explains when he stated “Oedipus at the moment he begins to recognize his dramatically reversed fate sets in train not merely pity, fear, and wonder, but also a desire to think through what has stirred up…” After this point in the play, he came to terms with what he had done and knew all the things he did were horrible.
Oedipus was so distraught that it caused him to make another rash decision. He decided to stick pins in his eyes to blind himself after seeing that Jocasta had hung herself. Oedipus is now blind, just as Tiresias once predicted in the beginning of the play. Jocasta had discovered that she married her son and even had kids with him before Oedipus could even figure it out. He was still trying to find another solution to all of the the damage that he had done. Oedipus himself knew what he must do, as he told Creon “Cast me out as quickly as you can, away from Thebes, to a place where no one, no living human being, will cross my path.” (Sophocles, 37). In this case Oedipus has more of a social death when he is exiled. He left his kids, family, and his throne after Jocasta died and blinding himself , as well as his throne to Creon.
Throughout the play, Oedipus shows how his life planned out for him, and there was no way of altering his fate. He was blinded by searching to find a perfect life away from the place he grew up in. He came to find out that his real parents knew about his prophecy and tried to take matters into their own hands. They gave up Oedipus and told a servant to get rid of him in order to prevent the future. Oedipus was adopted and when he grew up, learned to fend for himself and went on to find his own quest. The continuous trying and trying of changing his life for the better, ended in him making his fate, given in the beginning of the play to his parents Laius and Jocasta, true.
Oedipus comes to the realization that his tragic flaw is why his life turned out the way it did, and why everything he would do would have a bad outcome. Rage and excessive pride, Oedipus’ hamartia, made him react in different ways, that did not always go in his favor and led him to fulfill all of the prophecies that he was given. Believing that Oedipus was controlling his fate and his decisions were helping him alter his life is foolish. It is shown in the play that his life was set in stone from his birth and trying to change it would be hopeless.