Can you explain the quote below from Oedipus Rex said by Jocasta?"Fear? What should a man fear? Is all chance, chance rule's our lives. Not a man on earth can see a day ahead, groping through the...

Can you explain the quote below from Oedipus Rex said by Jocasta?

"Fear? What should a man fear? Is all chance, chance rule's our lives. Not a man on earth can see a day ahead, groping through the dark."

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote, spoken by Jocasta to her husband/son Oedipus, occurs late in the play, in Part II. The quote that you included reads:

Fear? What should a man fear? Is all chance, chance rules our lives. Not a man on earth can see a day ahead, groping through the dark.

In this quote, Jocasta is telling Oedipus that humans have no control over their own lives. Fate, or chance, determines what will happen to us. Therefore, it is useless to fear what we cannot control or understand. She uses a metaphor to say that humans are "groping through the dark," completely unaware of what lies ahead of them in their lives.

Jocasta tells Oedipus this in response to his assertion that he must "fear [his] mother's bed" (II. 1068). Earlier in this scene, Oedipus has been informed that his "father," Polybus, has died of natural causes. The prophecy about Oedipus's fate says he will murder his father with his own hands; therefore, when Oedipus gets this news, he rejoices to think he has avoided the wrath of the prophecy. However, his "mother," Merope, is still alive, and Oedipus says he can never return to Corinth (where he thinks he was born) because he might sleep with his mother, as the prophecy indicates. This shows us that Oedipus does not think he can exert his own will or self-control. In a way, his question, other than the inclusion of "fear," mirrors Jocasta's reaction in the quote above. She is simply saying that there is no need to fear the events to happen because they will happen regardless of his actions or emotions.

Not long after this, Jocasta and then Oedipus realize that Apollo's oracle's prophecy has come true. The above quote, then, serves as an example of dramatic irony because Jocasta is referring to the inevitability of her own fate without really being aware that she is talking about her own relation to that horrible prophecy.

Overall, the role of fate or chance in human lives is a central concern of the play. Jocasta's quote, as well as the outcome of the play—despite Jocasta, Laius, and Oedipus all attempting to avoid the prophecy—suggests that fate does indeed control human life, and there is no such thing as free will. 

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In many ways Jocasta acts as a foil to her husband/son, Oedipus, in this staggering play, as she seems to spend most of her time discouraging him from paying any attention to the Oracles and divinations about himself and his life whilst simultaneously realising the truth of her own identity and trying hard to come to terms with that herself. This quote that you have selected represents another attempt to distract Oedipus from the truth of the prophecies (which arguably by now Jocasta at some level at least knows have been fulfilled).

A paraphrase of this quote could be that oracles and predictions have no power over our lives. Our lives are subject only to chance and luck. Any attempt to predict or guess at the future is futile, as no man can see even what will happen tomorrow. Jocasta describes such attempts of trying to predict the future as futile "groping through the dark," clearly indicating the falsity of our claims to "see" and "predict" using prophecies and Oracles.

Of course, please note the irony in this passage. In spite of Jocasta's protestations, the oracles do show themselves to be true. Their seems to be a deeper irony in the picture of a man groping through the dark, as that is precisely what Oedipus will become - because of the truthfulness of the prophecies.