Themes in “Oedipus Rex”
“Oedipus Rex” is about the will of god for humans yet it has many other prominent themes. Some of them are:
What is a theme?
Precisely, a theme is the subject matter of a literary work. A writer targets some specific aspects of life which we call his vision. This vision, in simple words, can also be called the main idea of his work. Themes may vary from work to work and writer to writer. Moreover, a novel, prose, poetry or drama may have more than one theme. In fact, rarely, we find a work, which is bound to a single theme. A writer can cover as many topics as he wants. He can present many ideas in his story yet his focus remains on a specific subject. For instance, “Othello” mainly focuses on “jealousy” but simultaneously themes like “hate”, “lovemaking”, “and dubiety” run along with the story. The same is the case with “The Winter’s Tale”. Hence, a writer can present several themes in a story.
It is worth mentioning here that most themes of a literary work depend on each other; therefore, Oedipus Rex themes are also interlinked.
Sophocles’ Vision in “Oedipus Rex”
Sophocles, in “Oedipus Rex” portrayed the “relationship between man and god”. Perhaps, he wanted to show the world that man is powerless in front of gods. He explains that man is a puppet in hands of gods. His fate is predestined and he can do nothing to change it. Oedipus Rex tried his best to change his fate yet as much he tried as close he came to it. Some critics argued that Sophocles wrote this play without any philosophical idea but it was not true. He very skillfully knitted the themes of this play. His aim was to confirm the superiority of immortals to mortals.
Nowadays, writers show the relationship of man with his soul but ancient literature dealt with the relationship between man and gods and so as the play “Oedipus Rex”. Sophocles was first a philosopher then he was a dramatist as he was a man of good vision, thereby themes of Oedipus Rex are philosophical.
Gods Vs. Men
It is one of the major themes of Oedipus Rex. This play proves that gods are superior and men have to accept their superiority. A person can try his best but he cannot escape from his fate. It is preplanned by the gods and cannot be changed. His actions, therefore, are not important; the will of the gods is the most important thing. Oedipus Rex fights against his fate. Indirectly, he fights against the gods but ultimately he finds that his efforts are useless. He flees from his home in order to overpower his filthy fate while remaining unaware of the fact that he actually is going nearer to his destination. At the end of the play, the audience sees that Oedipus Rex has done a futile exercise of running away from his fate.
Oedipus Rex is not the only one who is fighting against the gods. In the past, King Laius and Queen Jocaste were also doing the same. Gods have cursed them that their son will harm them by marrying his mother and killing his father. They try to kill Oedipus Rex soon after his birth but by the will of the gods, he survives and unknowingly kills his real father King Laius on the way to Thebes. He also marries his real mother Queen Jocaste. Ultimately, the audience sees the fulfilment of both the cursed conditions imposed on the parents of Oedipus Rex. It proves that man is always inferior to gods and if they have decided to destroy a person then his free will does not matter.
Whether bad or good but Sophocles has presented the relationship between gods and men in this play, which is definitely one of the major themes of Oedipus Rex.
Themes of Pride and Over-confidence in Oedipus Rex
Aristotle prefers “Oedipus Rex” over all other plays of Sophocles. In fact, he considers it a perfect tragedy in the history of literature as evident from his book “Poetics”. In tragedy, “err” is the most important thing due to which the tragic hero suffers. If “Oedipus Rex” is a tragedy then “Pride” is the “err” of Oedipus Rex. There is no denying the fact that excessive “Pride” is the main reason behind the downfall of Oedipus Rex. He solves the riddle of the sphinx and considers himself superior to others. Creon tries to stop him from taking destructive decisions but he does not listen to him. He accuses him while saying that he is plotting to dethrone him and Teiresias is supporting him in this regard. Due to pride, he becomes overbold with Teiresias.
Similarly, there is a possibility that King Laius was cursed due to his pride. Queen Jocaste has also pride. She does not disclose that she has killed her son in order to save her pride. Thus, pride is also an important theme of this play.
“Physical and intellectual blindness” is third on the list of major themes of Oedipus Rex. Due to pride, Oedipus Rex becomes blind intellectually. Teiresias can be compared to him in this regard. He is physically blind but knows the truth on the other hand Oedipus Rex is physically fit but intellectually he does not know that he is the reason behind the sufferings of Thebes. Likewise, the people of Thebes are also intellectually blind. They think that Oedipus is a god for them, who is trying to save them from the unknown disease but they do not discern that it is no other than Oedipus Rex due to which they are suffering. Apart from them, Queen Jocaste is also blind intellectually. She cannot recognize that her new husband is actually her own son.
Discovery of truth:
Every major character in the play is unable to find the truth. Sophocles has crafted suspense in this play. The audience does not know the reason behind the agonies of Thebes. The identity of Oedipus Rex remains hidden. Jocaste remains unaware of the truth about her son till the climax. Even Oedipus Rex does not know the truth. The play is interesting and is discussed for a long because from start to end truth is discovered. It follows a procedure in the discovery of truth, which forces us to believe that the discovery of truth is also one of the targeted themes of Oedipus Rex.
Sophocles has knitted a tragedy but only the fulfilment of the requirements of tragedy is not enough to make a play interesting. Like other plays, the themes of Oedipus Rex play a major role in making it exciting. Sophocles has known that the well-knitted themes of Oedipus Rex are the main reason behind the fame of this play. In short, it is true that he wrote the best play in history while portraying some universal but interesting themes. Hence, the themes of Oedipus Rex are another cause which due to which we are discussing it even today.