Oedipus Rex - From Light to Dark
The tragedy of Oedipus Rex, a drama text by Sophocles, follows the moral underpinning Greek tragedy theme throughout - that people learn through suffering. The plot is developed around a light verses darkness theme. This theme is best demonstrated through Oedipus' pride, his encounters with Tiresias, and his wife Jocasta.
The irony of sight in this play can be marked by Oedipus' inability to realize that which is evident to the reader. From the very beginning, Oedipus was in darkness by pride. With the city of Thebes dying, Oedipus vows to do everything in his power to find Laius' killer. The leader of the chorus advises Oedipus that no one knows the identity of the murderer, and that the god Apollo should name him to the people. Oedipus replies "to force the gods to act against their will- no man has the power."(320)
He has called on the blind seer, Tiresias, who can "see" what Oedipus can not though he suffers of old age and physical blindness.
Tiresias, who is able to see the truth of the downfall of Oedipus thorough the oracle's prophecy even in his own blindness, becomes the comparative image from which Oedipus is judged, both by himself and by others. Throughout the conversation between Oedipus and Tiresias, he will not divulge the information King Oedipus is longing to hear. Tiresias says, "I'd rather not cause pain to you or me. So why this...useless interrogation? You'll get nothing from me" (321). This enrages Oedipus and he blames him for the murder, and then for conspiring with Creon to take his throne. These accusations Oedipus makes are caused by his fear of the truth he is too blind to see. This blame causes an argument between the two.
During the argument, Oedipus insults Tiresias' of his blindness. It is ironic that Oedipus, who is disrespectful to Tiresias because of his blindness, is spiritually blinded from the truth himself. Tiresias comes back denoting Oedipus' blindness to the truth, but assures him that he will soon be able to see. During the argument, Oedipus further shows his blindness through his arrogance. He says "when did you ever prove yourself a prophet? When the Sphinx, that chanting Fury kept her deathwatch here, why silent then...I stopped the Sphinx! With no help from the birds, the flight of my own intelligence hit the mark." (320). This shows that he thinks himself greater than the prophet and in essence greater than the gods, yet another example of his pride. After Oedipus takes his sight he realizes that he is mortal and has flaws. He also sees that he and Tiresias have something in common: they both are blind, yet now are able to see the obvious. Oedipus also accuses Tiresias of conspiring King Lauis death. "Now I see it all. You helped hatch the plot, you did the work, yes, short of killing him with your own hands- and given eyes I'd say you did the killing single handed!" (322) Tiresias rebuttals by saying "Is that so! I charge you, then, submit to that decree you just laid down: from this day onward speak to no one, not these citizens, not myself. You are the curse, the corruption of the land!" (322) Oedipus still does not realize that he is the killer - further demonstrating his darkness.
Through out the play, the reader sees that even though Oedipus has physical sight, he is spiritually blinded. In other words, while Oedipus had the sense of sight, he was blinded by his lack of perception. As for Tiresias, the opposite applies. Even though he suffers from physical blindness, Tiresias has captured spiritual sight. When he is lead to the King, he comments "How terrible to see the truth when the truth is only pain to him who sees." (321) This is an example of how Tiresias does see, yet he is blind. It also shows that this spiritual sight has done no good for Tiresias, but one could also say that Oedipus' physical sight has done no good for him either.
Oedipus' wife, Jocasta is a blinding figure in his life. When he almost sees the truth of his past, she convinces him that he is wrong, and that it is not possible that he was the killer of her late husband. This happens twice that she keeps him in the dark, and refrains him from seeing the light of his wrongs. When Oedipus confides in Jocasta about his feelings of the situation, he is almost to the point of realization that he killed Laius. She tells him that it could not be possible that he killed King Lauis. She tells him the story of their son, and the prophecy that one day he would grow to kill his father and marry his mother. She also tells him that they rid themselves of such a son. Even though the god Apollo told Oedipus the same story, that he would one day be the murderer of his father, and take over his fathers place by the side of his mother, he still does not put two and two together to realize the truth. Oedipus also tells Jocasta that Tiresias told him that he was the murderer of Laius. She then replies "Then free yourself of every charge...no human can penetrate the future." (332) This may be true. No human can see the future, but Tiresias only sees the truth! But through his own suspicions, and pursuit of knowledge, and his attempts to work against fate, Oedipus is trapped into a course of action that he can not foresee, and that determines the tragic outcome and his own downfall, as well as the death of his wife. When Jocasta flees from the palace, in despair because she too finally realizes that she is married to her son, the leader of the chorus tells Oedipus to go after her for "I'm afraid that from this silence something monstrous may come bursting forth." (344) Oedipus once again is blind to the warning and his wife dies in her bed chambers.
When Oedipus finally realizes that the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother had came true, he was over come with shame. He goes to Jocasta's quarters, where she had taken her own life, and gouged out his eyes with the broach that she wore. In the end, Oedipus gains insight into his life, his failings, and the nature of the gods and fate only through his own blindness, only through accepting the truth of his lack of vision, and his inability to impact fate. Oedipus gains a compassionate, though tragic outlook because of his capacity to envision that which he could never see while he had his physical sight. Through his blindness, Oedipus is finally allowed the ability to see himself, and this demonstrates the theme darkness to light in Sophocles' play Oedipus the King.
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. New York: Dover, 1991