Sophocles’ play Oedipus explores many aspects of human existence; however, one of its sole themes is determinism versus free will. Sophocles suggests that every individual is not only born with a preordained destiny, but also granted the abilities to mold and shape the plots of their own lives. Throughout the play, many characters encounter situations where the decisions they make alter the outcome of their futures. In the play Oedipus the King, characters such as Jocasta, Laius and Oedipus face decisions and then subsequently struggle with the emanations of making such choices. “… fate would make him meet his end through a son, a son of his and mine… Is left by Laius (through other hands of course) upon a trackless hillside.” (P40. Jocasta). After the prophecy from the oracle, Jocasta and Laius abandon their infant son in the trackless hillside to die for a prophecy with questionable accuracy. The action of Jocasta and Laius is out of freewill and is not god determined, because as a mother and a father, they both encompass the ability of making decisions for themselves and their infant son.
However, in this case, Oedipus is a helpless infant and did not possess the ability of making any choices. The place and setting of his birth determined the outcome of his parents abandoning him. The decision Jocasta and Laius made is out of free will, and in this scenario, Oedipus was a victim of fate. Oedipus was indeed once a victim of fate. However, a single instant in his life does not have to shape the rest of his existence. Throughout the play, the audience is made aware of the choices Oedipus could have made to avoid his tragic ending. “At dinner once, a drunkard in his cup brawls out ‘Aha! You are not your father’s son.’ Or I will make my mother wife, my father dead: my father Polybus, who reared and gave me life (Oedipus Pg44-45). During scenes of the play, numerous hints about his origin were revealed, but Oedipus chose to remain oblivious about the possibility that he killed his father and married his mother.
If everything was predetermined, Oedipus would be innocent and morally blameless because he would have no control of the events in his life. But because Oedipus senses remorse and liability for his actions, he finally realizes that he did have a choice in his actions. In the end, he blinds himself to avoid the sight of the people around him; it verifies that only he is to be blamed for the mistakes he chose to make. Therefore, in this case, Oedipus is no long a victim of fate; he encompasses the ability to decide for himself, which he failed to do. Oedipus’s downfall is not completely predetermined, but is instead the result of the decisions he made out his free will. Much like Oedipus, his mother/wife Jocasta makes the same mistake which was a reluctantcy to face her shortcomings.
“So there! Apollo fails to make the son his father’s murderer, and the father (Laius sick with dread) murdered by his son. All foreseen by fate and seers, of course, and all to be forgotten” (Jocasta Pg40). After abandoning Oedipus at infancy, Jocasta and Laius choose to believe, despite having no proof that their child was dead, and the oracle’s prophecy was over. The prophecy that her son will kill his own father, and marry his mother may be preordained. But Jocasta still could’ve had the power to shape her own destiny by making different choices. However, Jocasta chooses to overlook all the given clues and remain insensible, which resulted in her failure at being a mother, a wife, and the captain of her own life.
The play suggests that it is insignificant weather our lives are predetermined or not. What is important is that after we are born, we have the ability and the freewill to mold our lives into what we desire. We are specie that is capable of creating our own footprints in our lives. Although we are affected by forces which we have no control over, we can learn to understand the movement of the universe surrounding us, and accord our actions so we are not fighting the current, but moving along with them.
Courtney from Study Moose
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