Oedipus’ parents, biological and adopted, play a substantial role in his life. The fact that his biological mother had discarded him for fear of a prophecy and the fact that his adoptive parents did not tell him his true story led to his ultimate tragedy. Not knowing who his true parents are, Oedipus leaves, thinking to protect his mother and father, leading to the fulfillment of the prophecy he direly wants to avoid. Although he will not find out about his past until later, the events of his past, particularly the involvement of his parents, shaped his future.
At the beginning of the play, Oedipus is confident in his search for justice. Then, as more and more of his past is revealed, this confident justice is shattered. He must admit to society his atrocious deeds. Oedipus’ ideas of justice have now faded into the background. Because he has killed the king, he must publically be relieved from his position as king, demonstrating how radically Oedipus’ life is changed by his past.
The injury and scarring from having his ankles pinned together as a baby mirror the scarring from past actions. His mother’s selfishness, his perpetration of incest, and the killing of his father all scar his deepest being. This original physical and current emotional scarring reflect the scar of blindness that Oedipus inflicts upon himself so as not to have to look upon the gruesome actions of the past.
One can easily see the inner turmoil in Oedipus. He killed his father, an act of utter familial betrayal. He married his mother, committing incest. Yet, he did not know he was committing these treasonous acts. This inner conflict going on inside Oedipus serves to amplify the outer conflict of what is to be done about this new information. Oedipus must decide what to do with his revelations about his past
As Oedipus is forced to come to grips with the reality of what he has done, he crumbles. His past looms over him, taking all but his life. His relationship with his past is now intertwined in his present and future actions. This fact is what makes Oedipus Rex a true tragedy. It demonstrates the tragic purpose of the work as a whole; to illustrate through Oedipus that one cannot escape the past.
Perhaps it was Sophocles’ intention to prove the power of fate, and the power past actions have over the future. For Oedipus, this was tragically true; every one of his past decisions led to his destruction, as well as the past decisions of others associated with him. Oedipus Rex is defined by one man’s struggle with his past, and ultimately his destiny.