Themes of Sight and Blindness in Oedipus the King – Essay Sample

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In Sophocles’ play,” Oedipus the King” there are contradictory situations relating to the ability to see things literally compared to having vision symbolically.  This motif repeats again and again in this story and becomes one of its central themes.  When Oedipus begins his life, his parents are told by an oracle that he will ultimately kill his father and marry his mother.  In an effort to avert this fate, his father, Laius, orders that the child be killed but when his mother, Jocasta, brings him to a mountaintop and leaves him to die, he is rescued by a shepherd.  Both parents have actual vision, but they are unenlightened because they believe that they can thwart the will of the Gods and change fate through their actions; in reality, in Greek legends again and again mortals are unable to alter the course of their fates once they are decided upon by the Gods.  Laius and Jocasta are blind to the inevitability of the oracle’s prediction, an example of having the ability to see yet lacking the vision to accept the course of their futures.

By contrast, Teiresias, the blind prophet who made the prediction, lacks the ability to actually see, i.e., vision, but he is able to envision the future more accurately than those with eyesight.  Without the use of his eyes, he is still able to “see” Oedipus’ past as well as his destiny.  In this story, the blind man is actually the seer while those who retain their sense of sight are the blind ones who either ignore or deny what is literally in front of them.  When Oedipus is told that he is fated to kill his father and marry his mother, he believes that Polybus and Merope, the couple who rescued and raised him, are the potential victims of this prophecy so he flees, believing that in doing so he is saving the life of his father and avoiding the sin of incest with his mother.  Like his parents, who thought they could alter the will of the Gods by getting rid of their child, Oedipus lacks the vision to understand that his fate will be his fate, despite his efforts to change the future.  In the story Oedipus the King, the contradiction between being capable of vision vs.  truly being able to see arises throughout.

After leaving his adoptive parents, while blind to the fact that they are not his real parents, Oedipus encounters Laius on the road and after the two of them engage in conflict, he kills him, his biological father although he is blind to that fact.  Hence, the blind prophet had had the vision to see this chapter of Oedipus’ fate with clarity: indeed, Oedipus had killed his own father.  Oedipus’ continues on his journey and because he is able to solve the riddle of the Sphinx, he ends up becoming the King of Thebes, while still being oblivious to the drama that has played out with Laius in his narrative.  There, he marries his widowed mother, Jocasta, fulfilling the prophecy of the blind oracle who has once again demonstrated his ability to “see” the world with a vision that has been beyond the reach of Oedipus, Laius, and Jocasta.

When the kingdom of Thebes begins to decline, he does turns once again to the blind prophet Teiresias for help and to learn what has happened to the kingdom that has caused such deterioration.  Once again, it is the blind man who is able to see that there has been a contaminating force which has caused the downfall of Thebes, and that polluting factor is actually King Oedipus.  He could no longer deny the horrendous truth, that he had murdered his real father and married his mother, and in desperation, he blinds himself by pointing out his eyes.  The repetitive theme of having vision but being unable to see is now combined with the fate of Oedipus, who is now blind but is completely aware of the truth of his life and its horror.

 

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