At the end of Sophocles classic greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex, the main character, Oedipus, responds to his unfortunate discovery in a masochistic, yet predictable manner. Upon learning of his accidental patricide and incest, Oedipus gouges his own eyes out with the pins from his mother’s dress. This self-inflicted injury, intended to blind Oedipus, is foreshadowed throughout the text in a variety of ways.
Several other characters in the play urge Oedipus to cease his inquiry into the truth, because they believe he would be better off not knowing. Similarly, Oedipus, himself, expresses his regret at bring the truth to light, indicating that he intends to gouge his eyes out to force the truth back into the shadows, where he can no longer see it. Lastly, Oedipus states outright that he would prefer to return to a state where he was blind from the truth, since while he was blind to the truth, he had been immune to the pain it could inflict. As a result of these signals—both before and after the action—Oedipus gouging out his eyes
Throughout the play, Oedipus is repeatedly informed that he should refrain from looking for the truth, because learning the reality of his predicament could only end poorly. The prophet, Tiresias initially refuses to inform Oedipus of what he knows, arguing “I will not bring remorse upon myself and upon you. […] I will not tell you.” Later in the play, after Jocasta, wife and mother to Oedipus, uncovers the truth for herself, she warns him “For heaven’s sake, if you care for your own life, Don’t seek it!” (p. 38). Each character predicted the mental anguish that the truth would bring upon Oedipus, and attempted to inform him that he would be better off, or at least happier, if he remained blind to the truth. Therefore, Oedipus’s decision to blind himself was both predicted and justified by the rest of the play.
Similarly, Oedipus’s assertion that he never wants to see the light ever again indicates that he wishes does not want to see the truth anymore. After Oedipus fully realizes his predicament, he exclaims “It is all plain, indeed! O light, This be the last time I shall gaze on thee,” (p. 42). “All is plain,” as if a light were abruptly shown on the truth, and Oedipus, though previously having sought the truth, wished not to see it any more. By goughing his eyes out, he is attempting to force the truth back into the darkness.
Though physical blindness was the closest likeness that Oedipus could achieve, Oedipus made it very clear that he wished to return to a time period where he was blind to his patricide and incest. On page 49, while stumbling around, outside the place, Oedipus claims “I would have tried to seal up all this miserable frame, and live blind, deaf to all things; sweet it were to dwell in fancy, out of reach of pain,” (p. 49). Oedipus begins the statement by expressing a his regret at uncovering the truth, signaling that he wishes he had kept it a secret, sealed forever. Next, Oedipus says that being deaf and blind to the reality before him had protected him from the pain he was now experiencing and that it would be pleasant to return to a state before he knew the truth.
All in all, the response by Oedipus at the end of the play, though perhaps unforeseen, is reasonably justified by the rest of the play. It was made clear by a number of other characters over the course of the play that Oedipus would take the truth poorly and that he would be better off remaining blind to it. Furthermore, upon learning the truth, Oedipus announces that he will never see the light elluminating the truth ever again, so long as he lived. Lastly, in the final moments of the play, during one of Oedipus’s monologues, he exclaims that if one is blind to a painful truth, one is “out of reach of pain,” (p. 49). Because Oedipus’s efforts to blind himself were both implicitly and explicitly foretold by a variety of the play’s characters, the decision was a predictable and understandable conclusion to the play.