In the play Oedipus Rex, is Oedipus a blameless victim of his own ignorance?Or is he a victim of his own bad choices and pride? Explain.

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many students get off topic when they discuss Oedipus' fate using events that happen before the play begins.  This leads to simple determinism and fatalism, not to mention mere plot summary.

STICK TO EVENTS IN THE PLAY.  If you do, I think you will find that he has a choice.  The play can be read existentially this way, in that humans always have (or should be given choices) regarding fate.

Remember, Creon says, "who seeks shall find; who sits with folded hands or sleeps is blind."  Oedipus seeks and chooses to find the truth regarding his past.  He chooses to be angry at Creon, at Tiresias, and then at himself.  He chooses to be arrogant.  He chooses to act swiftly in his role as judge, jury, prosecutor, defendant.  He chooses not to be blind to his past.  He chooses to blind himself.  He chooses not to suicide, like Jocasta.

The fact that his present choice to not be blind to his past leads him to uncover a series of past blindness does not mean he is a victim of fate.  Good choices can uncover bad ones.  This is the dramatic arc of irony, tragedy, and absurdity.  It makes no sense, but Oedipus chooses to accept it anyway and lives with dignity nonetheless.

That Oedipus accepts his choices and not his fate is what makes him, according to Camus (the great absurdist philosopher and author), an absurd hero.  So says Camus:

Thus, Oedipus at the outset obeys fate without knowing it. But from the moment he knows, his tragedy begins. Yet at the same time, blind and desperate, he realizes that the only bond linking him to the world is the cool hand of a girl. Then a tremendous remark rings out: "Despite so many ordeals, my advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well." Sophocles' Oedipus, like Dostoevsky's Kirilov, thus gives the recipe for the absurd victory. Ancient wisdom confirms modern heroism.

If you stick to the play (and not the events preceding), and focus on the moment Oedipus realizes that he has ironically obeyed fate through a series of bad choices, then you will realize that he has victory over his fate, the gods, determinism, and death.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The answer to this question is dependent on how one interprets the text.  Reading it in both lights could be quite powerful.  I think that if one accepts the idea of tragic flaws, and the role of hubris in Oedipus' actions, then it would seem to be that he is a victim of his own bad choices motivated from this hamartia.  He believes that he can outrun his fate, believes in the notion of his own supremacy to bet everything he has on stopping the plague.  He might not have had many choices, but he did choose to ignore prophecies offered by Tiresias, as well as his own fated existence.  I think it would be compelling for you to go back and find evidence where he acted out of his own capacity for poor decisions, motivated by his tragic flaw.  To flip this argument, a strong case can be made that Oedipus had little, if any, choice.  If fate was so strong of a force, than he could not have acted in any way to evade it.  If one makes the argument that Oedipus should have understood the role of his fate, then the counterpoint is equally valid:  What could have Oedipus done to avert it?  In the final analysis, the discussion of Oedipus' role and actions might lie somewhere between both polarities.

kimfuji eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oedipus doesn't really have any choices: he is only reacting to fate, that which he has no control over. He is concerned about Thebes and so sends someone to Apollo to find out, in order to make Thebes healthy. Tiresias tells Oedipus his fate. He will kill his father and be his mother's lover. Of course he doesn't believe it.Oedipus does not go to Corinth, because he wants to avoid his fate, that is, mating with his mother. Oedipus learns from the Corinthian that his future isn't in Corinth. Merope and Polybus aren't actually his real parents; he was given to them as a gift.

In the end an old herdsman reveals that he(Oedipus) belonged to Jocasta. Oedipus finally knows he cannot escape his fate. He, in fact, killed his father and slept with his mother.

He's not a victim of ignorance; he is a representative of all man (and women) who try desperately to escape their fate and cannot.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great question. While, I agree with the other post that there is fate and we need to appreciate this, but we also need to emphasize Oedipus' own actions. He is filled with pride (hubris). He thinks he can outwit the gods and overturn prophecy. Also, he think that he can solve the plague at the beginning of the play. And he is so filled with arrogance that he states that he will punish anyone responsible for this plague. The irony is that he is the one responsible. He even brazenly kills his father for something that could be considered minor, certainly not meriting death. You see, Oedipus drives the whole play by his actions. In the end, it is not fate or actions. Rather it is a messy combination of both.

kmhgouda | Student

Oedipus was victim of circumstances, but not victim of his own bad choices or pride, after his birth he was betrayed by his own mother Jocasta, knowing his future by a fortuneteller haering that hw kills his own father and marries his own mother. This makes Jocasta to give  baby Oedipus to the  old man tells  him to leave this baby in the forest teling that he be the food to wild animals, but old man's concern towards small baby and King Polybus who were not having children, thus helps him by gigving the small baby to them.

After that as you know, he grows there and he was at height to be crowned as King but from God Delphi Oracle he comes to know that he will kill his father and gets married to his own mother, from there he comes to Thebes.(There you know he will be crowned as King and married to Jocasta).

The one thing to which Oedipus is to blamed for his escapism and hubris, if he would have faced the situation with courage, worst wouldn't happened I suppose.

To Conclude, Its not good to blame him for his pride and is's Jocasta who deserves the readers critcisms who knew everything of Oedipus from his birth.