What is the role of blindness and sight in Oedipus Rex? Please discuss.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

But I say that you, with both your eyes, are blind:
You can not see the wretchedness of your life,
Not in whose house you live, no, not with whom.

These are the words of the blind seer Teiresias to Oedipus.  Later he tells Oedipus that he is the one who is blind because he "cannot see the evil" that surrounds him. So, in Sophocles's Oedipus Rex, there is both literal and figurative blindness.

  • Literal blindness

It is, indeed, ironic that the blind seer Teiresias is more aware of the source of the curse upon Thebes than the king, Oedipus who, in his hubris accuses Creon of wishing the throne and Teiresias", whom he calls a "decrepit fortune-teller" "no more clairvoyant" than he, of insolence.  And, indeed, it is ironic that when Oedipus finally realizes that he is responsible for the curse upon Thebes, he literally blinds himself since he has cursed himself in Scene 2: "May I never see that day!" as he hopes his fate is not what is suggested by Tieresias that he has killed his own father.

So, the literally blind man sees what the sighted man cannot. But, when the sighted man realizes his horrible sins, he blinds himself so that he cannot see the children who are also his siblings. The literal blindness in both men, then, represents perception while sight implies blindness. For, besides Oedipus, Jocasta and her brother Creon have been blind for years to who Oedipus really has been.

  • Figurative blindness

In his hubris after having solved the riddle of the Sphinx, Oedipus is overly confident in himself, assuring the people of the Thebes that he will find the reason for their plague. He lashes out at the seer Tieresias and his brother-in-law, Creon, accusing him of wanting the throne,

You are the fool, Creon, are you not? hoping
Without support or friends to get a throne?
Thrones may be won or bought: you could do neither.

He also accuses Tieresias of being in collusion with Creon. In Scene 2, he still refuses to listen and accuses Creon of duplicity, even cursing Creon, "You are evil incarnate."

Finally, in Scene 3, Oedipus loses his inability to perceive reality and feels a "wild foreboding" of the truth. When he is forced by the evidence to recognize the truth, Oedipus blinds himself in self-punishment to symbolize his figurative lack of perception.

Like Oedipus, Jocasta has been figuratively blind to the fact that Oedipus is her son. At first, she encourages Oedipus to not pursue the truth, but when it is revealed, the truth is so overwhelming to her that she hangs herself with her own hair.