Monday, November 24, 2014

Fates Moral Power

          In Oedipus Rex, readers pity Oedipus, despite the morally grotesque offenses he has committed, because they are not wholly his fault. Although Oedipus commits treasonous acts against his family, he does it unknowingly. Oedipus is portrayed as the victim of fate and his moral ambiguity is arguably the most significant contributing factor to the work as a whole.
          The first offense Oedipus perpetrates is the killing of a whole caravan, including his father. This act is morally ambiguous in that it is partially justified, but not entirely. When he was driven from the road, he had the right to stand his ground. However, Oedipus admitted later that he struck the man out of anger, not self-defense, saying in line 834, “In my anger I struck the driver.” Therefore, by his own confession, this original strike was immoral. Then Oedipus is struck on the head with a, “two pronged goad” (line 81), and retaliates by killing every last man in the caravan. If this second instance of killing was simply self defense, Oedipus would be innocent, but if it was vengeful fury, then Oedipus is guilty of murder. Thus this action is one of moral ambiguity as there is not enough information to say whether it was just or unjust.
          The next horrific realization for Oedipus is that he has married his mother. What a grotesque and saddening thought this must have been, especially since Oedipus and Jocasta seem to be so close. Oedipus could not have possibly known that Jocasta was his mother and therefore did not commit this grievous sin willfully; nonetheless it was sin. Since this act cannot be defined as purely good or purely evil, it is labeled morally ambiguous, adding to the complexity of the story and the pity the reader feels for it’s main character.
          It seems now that Jocasta and Oedipus have forgotten about their children. After attempting to murder his wife, but realizing that she had already committed suicide, Oedipus, with no apparent thought for his girls, scrapes his eyes out and wallows in self-pity. His children must now live a life separate from their friends, not attending the usual celebrations and rituals as it would supposedly be bad luck. Oedipus not only wrecks his life, but the lives of his children and wife. Ultimately though, it is not his fault, but his destiny. Thus the reader cannot fully blame Oedipus for this neglect and we are left with yet another act of moral uncertainty.
          The fact that Oedipus is neither purely good nor purely evil is what makes Oedipus Rex the classic tragedy that it is. If Oedipus was completely sinless or completely sinful the tragedy would not have the same effect. Thus Oedipus’ moral ambiguity is essential to Oedipus Rex. Through the acts of possible self defense or murder, accidental incest and unintentional neglect Oedipus’ moral ambiguity is portrayed in a heart-wrenching way, as fate shows it’s power.