Oedipus Rex: Classic Tragic Hero Essay, Research Paper
In the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, Oedipus is a classic tragic hero. According to Aristotle’s definition, Oedipus is a tragic hero because he is a king whose life falls apart when he finds out his life story. There are a number of characteristics described by Aristotle that identify a tragic hero. For example, a tragic hero must cause his own downfall; his fate is not deserved, and his punishment exceeds the crime; he also must be of noble stature and have greatness. Oedipus is in love with his idealized self, but neither the grandiose nor the depressive “Narcissus” can really love himself (Miller 67). All of the above characteristics make Oedipus a tragic hero according to Aristotle’s ideas about tragedy, and a narcissist according to Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self.
Using Oedipus as an ideal model, Aristotle says that a tragic hero must be an important or influential man who makes an error in judgment, and who must then suffer the consequences of his actions. Those actions are seen when Oedipus forces Teiresias to reveal his destiny and his father’s name. When Teiresias tries to warn him by saying “This day will give you parents and destroy you” (Sophocles line 428), Oedipus still does not care and proceeds with his questioning. The tragic hero must learn a lesson from his errors in judgment and become an example to the audience of what happens when great men fall from their lofty social or political positions. According to Miller, a person who is great, who is admired everywhere, and needs this admiration to survive, has one of the extreme forms of narcissism, which is grandiosity. Grandiosity can be seen when a person admires himself, his qualities, such as beauty, cleverness, and talents, and his success and achievements greatly. If one of these happens to fail, then the catastrophe of a severe depression is near (Miller 34). Those actions happen when the Herdsman tells Oedipus who his mother is, and Oedipus replies “Oh, oh, then everything has come out true. Light, I shall not look on you Again. I have been born where I should not be born, I have been married where I should not marry, I have killed whom I should not kill; now all is clear” (Sophocles lines 1144).
Oedipus’s decision to pursue his questioning is wrong; his grandiosity blinded him and, therefore, his fate is not deserved, but it is far beyond his control. A prophecy is foretold to Laius, the father of Oedipus, that the destiny of Oedipus is a terrible one beyond his control. But when it is prophesized to Oedipus, he sets forth from the city of his foster parents in order to prevent this terrible fate from occurring. Oedipus’s destiny is not deserved because he is being punished for his parent’s actions. His birth parents seek the advice of the Delphi Oracle, who recommends that they should not have any children. When the boy is born, Laius is overcome with terror when he remembers the oracle. Oedipus is abandoned by his birth parents and is denied their love, which is what results in what Miller calls “Depression as Denial of the Self”. Depression results from a denial of one’s own emotional reactions, and we cannot really love if we deny our truth, the truth about our parents and caregivers as, well as about ourselves (Miller 43).
The birth of Oedipus presets his destiny to result in tragedy even though he is of noble birth. In tragedies, protagonists are usually of the nobility to make their falls seem greater. Oedipus just happens to be born a prince, and he has saved a kingdom that is rightfully his from the Sphinx. His destiny is to be of noble stature from birth, which is denied to him by his parents, but given back by the Sphinx. His nobility deceived him as well as his reflection, since it shows only his perfect, wonderful face and not his inner world, his pain, his history (Miller 66). When he relies on his status, he is blind, not physically, but emotionally. He is blind in his actions; therefore he does not see that the questioning would bring him only misery. Later, after his self-inflicted blinding, Oedipus sees his actions as wrongdoing when he says “What use are my eyes to me, who could never – See anything pleasant again?” (Sophocles line 1293) and that blindness does not necessarily have to be physical as we can se when he says, “If I had sight, I know not with what eyes I would have looked” (Sophocles line 1325).
In the play Oedipus Rex, Sophocles portrays the main character, Oedipus, as a good-natured person who has bad judgment and is frail. Oedipus makes a few fatal decisions and is condemned to profound suffering because of them. I agree with Aristotle that Oedipus’ misfortune happens because of his tragic flaw. If he hadn’t been so judgmental or narcissistic, as Miller would characterize a personality like Oedipus, he would never have killed King Laius and called Teiresias a liar. In the beginning, Teiresias is simply trying to ease him slowly into the truth; but Oedipus is too proud to see any truths, and he refuses to believe that he could have been responsible for such a horrible crime. He learns a lesson about life and how there is more to it than just one person’s fate.