Sophocles’ work Oedipus the King belongs to the genre of ancient tragedy. This literary style is characterized by personal conflicts, as a result of which the main character comes to the loss of personal values that are necessary for life. The contrast of happiness and unhappiness is often shown when a happy fate is filled with crimes, retribution, and punishment. The peculiarity of this tragedy is that not only the protagonist bears a cruel destiny but also all those involved. Oedipus’s escape from his native home is equivalent to the flight from his own destiny that finds him on this trajectory, and when he blinds himself, he also opposes fate.
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Characteristics of the Main Character
In the tragedy of Sophocles, the main character is the ruler of Thebes – King Oedipus. He is imbued with the problems of his loyal subjects, sincerely worried about their fate, and tries to help them in everything. He once saved the city from the Sphinx, and when citizens suffered from the plague that fell on them, the people again asked for salvation from the wise ruler. Oedipus’ words are sure when he turns to Teiresias: “Get out, and may the plague get rid of you!” (Sophocles line 519).
In the work, his fate is incredibly tragic; however, despite this, his image does not seem miserable but rather majestic and monumental. In the finale, he affirms his dignity by self-punishment and acts boldly, condemning himself for the crimes that he committed unknowingly. He pokes out his eyes with a brooch, and this punishment is cruel but symbolic. Oedipus exclaims: “Why should I have eyes when nothing I could see would bring me joy?” (Sophocles 1586-1587). Thus, the king sends himself into exile so as not to be near those whom he defiled by his actions.
Physical Blinding as a Metaphor
The hero of Sophocles is the man who complies with moral laws, the king who admits his own mistakes and is ready to bear punishment for them. His blinding is a metaphor that shows that the character is a blind toy in the hands of fate. However, when the hero becomes physically blind, he is able to see spiritually. He has nothing to lose, and he admits this by saying, “…wherever my fate leads, just let it go” (Sophocles 1727). After such trials, Oedipus frees himself from lust for power, arrogance, and godless aspirations and leaves the city, sacrificing everything for the benefit of the townspeople. His exile, in this case, is the path to freedom provided by his fate.
Sophocles’ attempt to show the weakness of the person, even as magnificent as King Oedipus, to the forces of fate is reflected in the plot of the tragedy under consideration. The main character is revered by his people, but in the end, he understands that his life is a toy in the hands of his destiny. Oedipus makes a choice in favor of physical blinding, thereby revealing his spiritual vision and striving for freedom.
Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Translated by David Grene, The University of Chicago Press, 2010.