Literary Analysis Of Oedipus The King

Oedipus the King is a classic when it comes to Greek literature and world literature alike. This play encompasses the tale of Oedipus on his journey to self-discovery. He wins the hearts of the citizens of Thebes in his conquer of the Sphinx and in turn becomes king and marries the recently widowed Jokasta. Years later, a plague threatens the city and the oracles say that only when the killer of the previous king is avenged, will the city be safe once more. Oedipus accuses Kreon of being this murderer, but it proves false when Oedipus discovers that he fulfilled his prophecy. He is the murderer. This tragic tale is woven with literary elements, such as irony, symbolism, and tone, that embolden the theme of fate versus free will.

Irony plays a significant part in this play. When the story begins, most of the readers already know that Oedipus is, in fact, the unfortunate child of Jokasta and Laios, unlike Oedipus himself who is unaware. This myth was already well known at the time that Sophocles wrote this play. Even today, this tale is widely known. The point of this play is to follow Oedipus on his journey of discovering how his past led him to his demise. When Oedipus calls on Tiresias to reveal what needs to be done to rid the city of the plague, Oedipus accuses him of scheming with Kreon to try and steal his kingly power. Oedipus exclaims, “Wealth and a king’s power, the skill that wins every time — how much envy, what malice they provoke! To rob me of power — power I didn’t ask for, but which this city thrust into my hands — my oldest friend here, loyal Kreon, worked quietly against me, aching to steal my throne”. Unknowingly, at the end of the play, Kreon succeeds Oedipus, and Oedipus then begs Kreon, “Let me live out my life on Kithairon, the very mountain — the one I’ve made famous — that my father and mother chose for my tomb”. After Oedipus confronts Kreon and a conflict takes place, Oedipus and Jokasta are discussing what happened. Jokasta is reminded of the prediction from Apollo that her son would kill her husband, Laios. After they enter the palace, Jokasta then proceeds to give a sacrifice to Apollo asking him to make Oedipus not worry. This is ironic because Apollo is the one who gave the prophecy that made him nervous in the first place.

Symbolism is prominent throughout this story and also provides evidence of the theme fate versus free will. The first piece of symbolism is the crossroads. In the story, Jokasta tells Oedipus that Laius was killed, “in a place called Phokis, at the junction where roads come in from Delphi and from Daulis”. Crossroads signify a decision that has to be made with each path resulting in different outcomes. Oedipus was faced with the choice of killing Laios, or not. The fact that Oedipus chose to kill him, solidifies that his choice was indeed a part of the prophecy and not an actual choice. Another piece of symbolism is Oedipus’ name. Oedipus means “swollen foot”. When Oedipus was a baby of three days old, his father bound his feet together to enhance the possibility of exposure. This, of course, fails and leaves Oedipus with foot deformities which makes him different than everyone else and also ties him to the prophecy. Another point to consider is eyes. Eyes, seeing, vision, knowledge and the like are mentioned a plethora of times throughout this story. Eyes represent truth and ignorance. Oedipus made a conscious effort to try and dispute the claims against him even though there was so much evidence to the contrary. Once Oedipus accepts the fact that he fulfilled his prophecy, he gouges out his own eyes, crying, “Eyes, now you will not, no, never see the evil I suffered, the evil I caused”. Ironically, the blind prophet, Tiresias, was the only one to see the truth in the beginning.

Diction is the vocabulary and style of the way that the characters speak. Throughout this play, Oedipus goes through a transformation with the way that he speaks and how he views his world as his fate becomes clear. Oedipus, in the beginning, is egotistical and self-righteous. Even in the first verses that he speaks he exclaims, “My name is Oedipus — the famous — as everyone calls me” for he defeated the Sphinx, and is known as the savior and now king of Thebes. Oedipus hastily accuses Kreon of treachery without any sign of proof. Oedipus tells Kreon, “You speak shrewdly, but I’m a poor learner from someone I know is my enemy”. In his dispute Tiresias, he challenges Tiresias in saying, “Why — when the Sphinx who barked black songs was hounding us — why didn’t you speak up and free the city? … It took Oedipus, the know-nothing, to silence her”. The whole plot is driven by his impulsiveness and a pretentiousness obsession over being the hero. During the first half of the play, Oedipus believes that he has control over his life, that Kreon and Tiresias are jealous of his achievements. After the herdsman corroborates that Oedipus was the infant left to die, Oedipus’ tone changes. He becomes more modest. Kreon muses that he must make sure they are taking the right course of action when dealing with Oedipus and consult with the gods. Oedipus replies with, “You’d ask about a broken man like me”? Oedipus understands now that everyone is seen as equal in the eyes of the gods and that their fate is unescapable. He accepts that Kreon is now king with no resentment. Oedipus exclaims, “Bless this kindness of yours. Bless your luck. May the gods guard you better than they did me”. He changes from a gallant king selected by the gods to a man who fell from his undeserved grace. Once Oedipus realized his mistake of disregarding the gods, he transforms into a new person completely, leaving his life in the hands of Kreon and the gods.

All of these literary devices, irony, symbolism, and diction, prove the theme of fate versus free will. The wording of the characters express symbolistic meanings which in turn are ironic. This tale of Oedipus’ misfortune is one of tragic irony. It delves deep into the belief that oracles were true messengers of the gods and the weight that prophecies carried were significant. Not long after Sophocles wrote this play, any practice deemed Pagan and the like were outlawed, and Christianity took over. People like to think that everyone has free will, but it could possibly be fate. Every choice could be the predetermined decisions of fate.

10 October 2020
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now