Which character best embodies the theme of sight and blindness in Oedipus the King (Oedipus Rex)? Provide quotes to support this.

The character who best embodies the theme of sight and blindness in Sophocles's Oedipus Rex is the blind seer/prophet, Teiresias. Even in his blindness, Teiresias sees the truth of the past, present, and future that affects the sighted characters. These characters are symbolically blind to the truth, like Oedipus, or reject the truth, like Oedipus and Jocasta, even when the truth is evident and Oedipus's fate is sealed by the will of the gods.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The theme of symbolic sight and blindness and the interrelated theme of truth and ignorance are apparent throughout Sophocles's ancient Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex.

The blind seer/prophet Teiresias embodies the themes of sight and blindness, as well as truth and ignorance. Teiresias is the only character in Oedipus Rex who is founded wholly in truth, whereas all of the other major characters, including Creon, Oedipus, and Jocasta, struggle to find truth throughout the play from a position of blind ignorance or through a self-imposed haze of ignorance by refusing to accept the truth that they already know exists.

Teiresias is a living paradox. He is the blind man who can see the past, present, and future, and who sees more than those with sight can see.

Creon can't be faulted for his ignorance. He simply doesn't know any of Oedipus's story or how Oedipus's story relates to the events of the play. The truth is revealed to Creon in the same way and at the same time it's revealed to the audience.

Creon sets the plot in motion by reporting to Oedipus what the Oracle revealed to him. Creon simply reports the facts, the truth of the matter, as it was told to him, without imposing any of his own subjective interpretation of the facts.

Oedipus is desperate to discover the truth about Laius's murder. Throughout the play, however, Oedipus's reaction to the truth is to try to find another truth that will somehow dispel or negate what he doesn't want to accept and what points to his involvement in Laius's death.

Oedipus tries to twist and turn the truth to fit his own subjective interpretation of the facts. When Oedipus realizes, for example, that he killed a man under the same circumstances that Laius was killed, Oedipus tries to find another explanation for Laius's death and prefers to believe that Laius was set upon by a band of robbers rather than by a single assassin.

Oedipus's pride simply won't allow him to believe the truths that are revealed to him, but his pride also won't let him cease searching for the truth, even at his own expense.

Jocasta can be faulted for refusing to believe what is clearly evident and for blindly refusing to pursue the truth.

JOCASTA. Henceforth I
Will look for signs neither to right nor left.

Jocasta can also be faulted for trying to persuade Oedipus to cease searching for the truth. When Oedipus sends for the shepherd to explain what he did with the baby Oedipus, Jocasta tries to dissuade Oedipus from questioning the shepherd.

JOCASTA. Who is the man? What matter? Let it be.
'Twere waste of thought to weigh such idle words. ...

Yet humor me, I pray thee; do not this....

'Tis for thy sake I advise thee for the best. ...

Ah mayst thou ne'er discover who thou art!

Teiresias knows the truth of the present situation.

TEIRESIAS. ...Thou art the man,
Thou the accursed polluter of this land...

I say thou art the murderer of the man
Whose murderer thou pursuest...

This day shall be thy birth-day, and thy grave.

Teiresias knows Oedipus's past.

TEIRESIAS. [T]hou hast eyes,
Yet see'st not in what misery thou art fallen,
Nor where thou dwellest nor with whom for mate.
Dost know thy lineage? Nay, thou know'st it not,
And all unwitting art a double foe
To thine own kin, the living and the dead...

Teiresias also knows how Oedipus's past will affect his future.

TEIRESIAS. Ah whither shall thy bitter cry not reach,
What crag in all Cithaeron but shall then
Reverberate thy wail, when thou hast found
With what a hymeneal thou wast borne
Home, but to no fair haven, on the gale!
Aye, and a flood of ills thou guessest not
Shall set thyself and children in one line. ...

[T]his man whom thou hast sought to arrest
With threats and warrants this long while, the wretch
Who murdered Laius--that man is here.
He passes for an alien in the land
But soon shall prove a Theban, native born.
And yet his fortune brings him little joy;
For blind of seeing, clad in beggar's weeds,
For purple robes, and leaning on his staff,
To a strange land he soon shall grope his way.
And of the children, inmates of his home,
He shall be proved the brother and the sire,
Of her who bare him son and husband both,
Co-partner, and assassin of his sire.

The play evolves just as Teiresias forewarns, the truth is revealed just as Teiresias foretells, and Oedipus's fate occurs just as Teiresias foreshadows.

Oedipus doggedly continues to pursue the truth, and he discovers that he is the murderer of Laiushis fatherand is the husband of Jocasta, his mother. Oedipus blinds himself, and, a blind and broken man, he exiles himself from Thebes.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial