Fate vs. Free Will
Sophocles' three Theban Plays are arranged in a manner that from the beginning, the audience is aware of the outcome and of Oedipus' fate. Oedipus learns that he is fated to kill his father and marry his mother. In trying to avoid his fate, he flees his land to construct a different life. Oedipus believes that he has thwarted his fate but the audience knows otherwise. The audience understands why Oedipus sees the world and himself the way he does but at the same time, the audience knows he is wrong. However, there is no sense during the play that Oedipus is compelled to act the way he does. He acts on free will and he initiates the chain of events that reveal his fate to him in the end. The interplay between Oedipus's sense of his own freedom and the reader's sense of his eventual downfall creates the main dramatic power in the play.
Therefore, throughout the play, there is an irony that manifests itself in the growing discrepancy between what Oedipus believes and what the audience knows.
This irony builds as the play progresses. Slowly, clues to the murderer of Laius are revealed, but Oedipus refuses to believe that he is the murderer. In his ignorance, Oedipus seeks to find the "truth" in an obsessive manner. Oedipus acts according to his own vision of experience and acts freely. He makes his own decisions and lives with the consequences it brings. He answers to himself, rather than shaping his life in accordance with someone else's set of rules. The course of events that eventually leads to the discovery of the truth is initiated and maintained by Oedipus himself. "Soon it will come to light: The worst pain is self-chosen, deliberate" (p. 114). Even...