How do we write an essay explaining how the suffering brought upon by Oedipus in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex contributes to the tragic vision of the work as a whole?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Oedipus's fated transgression of unknowingly killing his own father and committing incest with his mother was said to have brought suffering, not only to himself, but to all the people surrounding him. For example, it is said that his transgression has brought a plague to the city. In addition, his transgression leads to his mother-wife's, Jocasta's, suicide and also to the deaths of most of his children, as we see in the later plays of the trilogy. All of the death and destruction that his transgression causes adds to the tragedy of the piece as a whole because now the tragic end does not relate to just one character, like so many tragedies, instead, many characters suffer a tragic end. Therefore, a useful thesis for this type of essay might be along the lines of:

  • Oedipus's transgression leads to the suffering of his citizens, his wife, and even his children, making the tragedy even more tragic.

While we are limited to space and cannot discuss all of the suffering Oedipus's transgression causes, below is a description of how what he did affected his city.

We learn at the beginning of the play that it is said that Oedipus's sins are the reason for the current plague the city is suffering. As we learn from the priest in the beginning of the play, there is famine in the land, the herds are dying, many people are dying, and women are giving birth to stillborns. The reason that it was believed that Oedipus's sins were the cause of the famine is that the Greeks believed that any sin or transgression against the gods poisoned, not only the sinner, but the entire land and angered the gods, leading to death and destruction. We especially see Tiresias blame Oedipus for the current plague in the lines:

You, even though you see clearly, do not see the scope of your evil, nor where you live, nor with whom you dwell. Do you know your true descent? And secretly you are an enemy to your own kin. (433-437)

Hence, it can easily be said that Oedipus is the cause of all of the suffering surrounding him, making the play an even greater tragedy because the tragic end extends to all, not just to Oedipus.


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