Who is at fault for the tragic things that happened in Oedipus Rex?

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athenaia86 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a bit of a trick question. You could consider each of the following people to be "at fault" for the things that happen in the play, but although each in their own way contributes to the situation, every person is ultimately just a victim of Fate.

  • Oedipus himself promises the people of Thebes that he will do whatever is necessary to determine the cause of the current plague and rectify it. He swears terrible punishments on whoever may be responsible for angering the gods, thus bringing the plague to Thebes; and he specifically says that, should he discover he is somehow responsible for the plague, he hopes that he "[may] suffer the same things which [he has] just called down on others." Oedipus is unaware of how portentous his words are, and when it transpires that he is, in fact, the target of the gods' wrath, he does suffer terrible punishments. He searches for the answer to the present situation despite warnings from the Chorus and the prophet Teiresias that the answer will destroy him. The more resistance Oedipus encounters, the more determined he is to discover the truth. If he had left well enough alone, perhaps the tragedy could have been averted.
  • Laius, Oedipus's father, was told by an oracle that he would be murdered by his son. He tried to avoid this fate by exposing the baby Oedipus on a mountainside to die. In so doing, he unwittingly ensured that Oedipus lived to kill him, many years later. This is a very common theme in Greek myth—bringing about one's doom by attempting to escape it—so in a way, Laius is responsible for both his own death and all of the subsequent tragedy of Oedipus's incestuous marriage. In a much more concrete way, Laius is responsible for his death because of his actions when he and Oedipus do meet again, on the road to Corinth. Laius rudely shoves the young Oedipus off the road and Oedipus, outraged, fights back. In the scuffle, Laius is killed, and everything else follows from his death.
  • Oedipus's adoptive parents, Polybus and Merope, raised him from infancy as their own and hid from him the truth of his parentage. Oedipus did not learn that they were not his real parents until he was a grown man, and a drunk at a banquet told him. Oedipus confronted his "parents", who were reluctant to admit anything. One of Oedipus's defining traits is his burning desire for answers, and he went to the oracle at Delphi to learn who his true parents might be. The oracle did not tell him what he wanted to hear, but instead warned him that he was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus, dismayed by this, decided to flee to Corinth so that he could never kill his father (Polybus) and marry his mother (Merope). Of course, he fled straight into the fate that awaited him—a fate which, again, might have been avoided had Polybus and Merope told Oedipus the truth of his parentage when he confronted them.
  • The Servant who took the baby Oedipus to be exposed on the mountainside was so saddened at the thought of the child's death that he gave him to the Messenger instead of fulfilling his duty. The Messenger took Oedipus to King Polybus and Queen Merope in the neighboring kingdom, and Oedipus, who should have died as a newborn, instead grew up to kill his father and marry his mother. An act of kindness thus sealed the fates of all involved in the tragedy.
  • Fate itself is ultimately "to blame" for the events in the play, if Fate can truly be "blamed" for anything. Every character has, in their own way, tried to avoid or manipulate Fate, but nothing will prevent the consequences which have been foretold. No act of kindness, anger, fear, or love, can protect the characters from what Fate has in store.
bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A hereditary curse placed on his family is the reason for the downfall of Oedipus Rex. He unknowingly fulfills the prophecy of the curse by killing Laius and marrying his mother, Jocasta. One flaw in the character of Oedipus Rex is his pride, or hubris, and his treatment of Creon and Teiresias demonstrate this flaw. However, I don't think that Oedipus Rex can be blamed for any flaw he may have in his character since he isn't directly responsible for it.  Can we blame Laius and Jocasta for not raising him themselves so they could attempt to prevent the prophecy?  Perhaps Jocasta herself is more blameworthy as she tries to keep the truth from Oedipus and the others. Can we blame Oedipus himself for wanting to find the truth? I believe fate and the gods bear the responsibility for the ruin of Oedipus Rex.

jilllessa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do not think you can say that anyone is particularly at fault for the tragic things that happen to Oedipus Rex.  Laius made a mistake by tryng to avoid the will of the Gods or his Fate.  Oedipus is oblivious to all that happens but he did commit the murder of the King, albeit not knowing that the king was his father.  It is interesting to note in Edith Hamilton's great work, Mythology, that she records that while Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, and Oedipus' ancestor was favored by the gods, no one in the family had been so favored after him.  All of his children came to bad ends but none had been so tragically treated as Oedipus. She gives no reason for this except the vagaries of the Greek Gods.



beauty11palpa | Student

Oedipus had become the king of Thebes by answering the riddle of the Sphinx.His success in becoming king of Thebes and his downfall in discovering his own origins are the result of the same character trait. In the play, king Oedipus is good in everything . He is so intelligent and potential that he solved the problem of Sphinx and shaved Thebans from the riddle. Likewise he is equally concerned and conscious about the problem of pestilence . But , finally his attempt to serve the citizen brought his own tragic fall to extent that therefore, the audience can should fell pity for the downfall of hero. However ,the hero has a flaw that causes the hero to fail. Therefore, the audience fells an appropriate moral fear that badness leads to bad results. The audience may feel both pity and fear , and neither of them will be corrupting. On the contrary , the emotions will help people sympathize with hroes better than themselves while fearing the negative consequences of wickedness.