In what sense may Oedipus be regarded as a better man, though a less fortunate one, at the end of the play than at the beginning? What has he gained from his experience?

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In the end, Oedipus now recognizes that he is not the authority on everything in the world. Though he was able to answer the Sphinx's riddle, free Thebes of her tyranny, and rule for many years in peace, Oedipus now sees that he is "the gods' abhorrence." Thus, he is...

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In the end, Oedipus now recognizes that he is not the authority on everything in the world. Though he was able to answer the Sphinx's riddle, free Thebes of her tyranny, and rule for many years in peace, Oedipus now sees that he is "the gods' abhorrence." Thus, he is "willing" to be lead by Creon, Oedipus's brother-in-law and uncle, who is the new king of Thebes. He was never willing to be led by another's judgment before. Oedipus tells Creon that the god of prophecy, Apollo, clearly set out to "destroy / The parricide, the scoundrel; and I am he." In other words, Oedipus now recognizes his true powerlessness in comparison to the gods; he recognizes their authority and his own weakness, despite the immense pride that he had exhibited for the majority of his adult life. He is, therefore, a better man because he has gained perspective and become humbler as a result of his experiences.

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The key to answering this is to understand that "better" in this context refers to character and self-knowledge rather than external circumstances. It also is useful to know that Sophocles also wrote Oedipus at Colonus, about Oedipus's death, which provides a sequel to the story of Oedipus Rex, in which Oedipus enjoys a peaceful and happy ending in Athens, savoring the hospitality of Theseus and finally, certain of his fate and moral purpose, achieving an apotheosis, dying in a way that makes the secret place of his death a permanent blessing and gift for Athens.

Although when Oedipus marries Jocasta he appears to be enjoying the height of power and respect, he is not truly happy, for his success rests on a false and shaky foundation. He lacks true knowledge of himself and his circumstances. In terms of character, although fundamentally decent, Oedipus is arrogant and oblivious to the harm he causes. His fundamental greatness as a character is that once he understands this, he has the moral courage to see that material success that harms the city and offends the gods is not true happiness; instead, being a good person means seeking a path in which one honors the gods and cares for others. Although the end of Oedipus Rex is tragic, the audience sees Oedipus, although in great pain and distress, starting on that path to redemption and thus being a "better person" than before.

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Oedipus' life is now directed by free will instead of fate. At the end of the play, he gouges out his eyes, leaves Thebes, and abandons his daughters. These are all decisions that he makes despite the painful consequences. Though he lives a miserable existence, he is no longer a blind instrument of fate. He is no longer an instrument that belongs to the oracle. In this sense, he is a better man.

Also, ironically, only after he has lost his physical vision, he is able to see and know who he really is. The most noble and wise man in the play is the blind seer, Tireisias. Blindness, thus, is emblematic of good men in the Theban plays. It is blindness that allows one to overcome hubris and move beyond the control of the gods.

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In one sense, Oedipus is a better man because he has learned humility. In the play's beginning, Oedipus flies in the face of every warning against trying to discover too much about the mysteries of the gods and trying to change his fate. By the end, he learns that he cannot master his fate, and that some secrets are better left buried. This knowledge comes at a high price (his innocence), so high, in fact, that he puts out his eyes in order never to see (or know) anything new ever again.

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