Last Updated on November 8, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546
Extended Character Analysis
Jocasta is the Queen of the city of Thebes and Creon’s sister. She is also Oedipus’s mother and wife, though neither she nor Oedipus knows this until too late. Just as Oedipus suffers a tragic downfall, so does Jocasta. However, unlike Oedipus, Jocasta attempts to shroud herself in ignorance. She cautions Oedipus against trusting oracles and pursuing knowledge. She wholeheartedly believes that her and King Laius’s painful decision to send the baby Oedipus away circumvented the prophecy. making the fulfillment of the prophecy all the more tragic.
Queen Jocasta is sensible and outspoken. She chides Oedipus and Creon for getting into petty arguments when the Theban people are dying of the plague. She is positioned as a mediator, someone who brings balance to Oedipus’s temper and pride, encouraging him to see Creon as an ally instead of an opponent. She also urges him to avoid trusting prophets too much, claiming that the gods will do as they will and that prophecies are not always true. As evidence, she cites the prophecy that her own child would kill his father and marry her, not realizing that it has come true despite her attempts to avoid it.
Jocasta does not know that Oedipus is her son. However, her attempts to shield him from the truth of his identity can be interpreted as a maternal desire to protect his innocence. She beseeches him to cease his quest for information, but to no avail. Combined with her role as a mediator between Creon and Oedipus, Jocasta’s chief goal seems to be to keep her family—and her country—together. However, once it becomes clear that Oedipus will not be deterred from pursuing information, Jocasta is forced to confront her guilt. Unable to handle the shame of having committed incest, she hangs herself, and Oedipus uses the brooches from her dress to blind himself.
Much like Oedipus, Jocasta is a tragic figure because her actions lead to her downfall. Whether she is a victim of fate or a victim of her own hubris is up to interpretation. Much like Oedipus, Jocasta is guilty of hubris, or attempting to defy the gods. Rather than accepting the delphic oracle’s—and by extension, Apollo’s—will, she and Laius attempt to change fate by leaving their infant son to die on the mountain. She further insults the gods by dismissing their prophets as unreliable.
However, Jocasta is ultimately as ignorant of her sins as her son, Oedipus. She tries to change fate in defiance of prophecy but ultimately fulfills the will of the gods without even realizing it. The overarching theme of Jocasta’s story seems to be the futility of struggling against fate. What distinguishes her from Oedipus is that she does not seem to accept accountability for her role in the tragedy. This denies the audiences true catharsis, or emotional release. For audiences to experience a culminating catharsis, the tragic figure must complete the cycle of tragedy, arriving at a renewed and humbled relationship with the gods. Oedipus’s story completes the cycle but Jocasta’s does not. Oedipus acknowledges his own folly and returns to the stage blind but enlightened. Jocasta dies offstage, unable to live with the guilt wrought by her sins.
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