Samuel Clemens Profile Essay Research Paper Use

Samuel Clemens Profile Essay, Research Paper Use of Irony in “Oedipus Rex” Many sources tell us that Sophocles wrote more then one hundred plays, but only seven of them have survived the

Samuel Clemens Profile Essay, Research Paper

Use of Irony in “Oedipus Rex”

Many sources tell us that Sophocles wrote more then one

hundred plays, but only seven of them have survived the

centuries in their entirety. Certainly the best known of his

surviving plays is “Oedipus Rex.” The plot of the play

hinges on the element of irony. Irony can be defined as “a

combination of circumstances or a result that is the

opposite of what is or might be expected or considered

appropriate,” (Guralnik, Webster’s, 1968, p. 745). Irony is

one of the prevailing and defining characteristics of the


The first event that sets the whole tragic tale in

motion is when Laius, King of Thebes, is told by a prophet

that any child that is born to him and his queen, Jocasta,

will murder him. Therefore, when a child is born to him, he

pierces the baby’s ankles with a spike, ties them together,

and has a servant leave the child on Mount Cithaeron to die

from exposure. This is ironic because if Laius had not

attempted to murder his own child, Oedipus would not have

been found and raised by strangers. He would have known

Jocasta was his mother. Ironically(and disgustingly, Oedipus

marries her and produces several children). Also, without

his violent temper, he would not have killed his father on

the road to the Oracle if had had been aware of his


As a baby, Oedipus is found by a shepherd, and taken

back to Corinth where he is raised as the son of King

Polybus, and his queen, Merope. After he is grown, Oedipus

is told by a drunken man at a banquet that he really isn’t

the son of Polybus. Confused, Oedipus is determined to learn

the truth. H visionary oracle. The horrified woman sends

him away saying that he will murder his father and marry his

mother. The prophecy disturbs Oedipus so much that he

doesn’t return in the hopes of preventing the prophecy from

coming true. But, in so doing, he defied the will of the

gods, and sealed his fate.

This is, of course, ironic because Oedipus is taking

the action of not returning to Corinth because he wrongfully

considers Polybus and Merope to be his parents. But, here

again, a human is trying to avoid what is clearly

predestined. In committing the sin of hubris(pride), Oedipus

brings down upon himself the rightful condemnation of the

higher power .

Previous to meeting with the Oracle, Oedipus had met

King Laius, and four attendants, at a fork in the road. A

fight started, and Oedipus kills King Laius, totally unaware

that this is his real father. It’s ironic on several many


Oedipus, in trying to avoid the prophecy, has fulfilled

it. This is also ironic because Laius would not have left

Thebes and journey to the Oracle if the city had not been

plagued by the Sphinx, a monster with a woman’s head and a

lion’s body, plus miscellaneous other animal features. The

city would, undoubtedly, have not been plagued if Laius had

stayed in the god’s good graces.

Having unknowingly killed his father, Oedipus journeys

on and encounters the Sphinx. Because he answers the

Sphinx’s riddle correctly, it kills itself in a fit of

anguish and the city is saved. Oedipus is declared King of

Thebes. He marries the recently widowed Jocasta and the

prophecy is fulfilled.

?Oedipus Rex? seems to roll one pieve of irony after

another.. Everything Oedipus tries to avoid he ends up

doing. The beautiful marriage between the King and Queen is

incest. He is also famous for solving riddles but cannot

solve the one that concerns the origin, path, and destiny of

his own life. Oedipus shows a brutal side when he beats the

same shepard that saved him during the interrogation.

Some readers interpret the irony differently. Ever

since the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, made his

famous observations, critics have been using this aspect in

this analysis.

The Freudian interpretation can be taken beyond the

obvious relationship between Oedipus and Jocasta and

extended to Oedipus’ two daughters. Oedipus and Jocasta had

four children-two sons and two daughters. The children are

brought in at the very end of the play when a blind Oedipus

is pondering their fate. The sons he dismisses because they

are able to take care of themselves, but Oedipus frets over

the fate of his daughters.

Oedipus- ?As for my sons, you need not take care of

them.They are men, they will find some way to live.

But my poor daughters, who have shared my table,

Who have never before have been parted from their

father-Take care of them, Creon: Do this for me.

And will you let me touch them with my hands

A last time, and let us weep together?

Be kind my lord,

Great Prince, be kind!

Could I but touch them,

They would be mine again, as when I had my eyes…..

Creon- Yes Oedipus:I knew that they were dear to you

In the old days, and know you must love them still.


It could be said that this intense interest in his

daughters indicates that Oedipus had a sexual attraction for

his children that completed the incested cycle of his

family. If this is true, another piece of irony is added to

the fire that overwhelmed Oedipus and led to his demise.

Similarly, Green says that when Oedipus stabs himself

in the eyes with Jocasta’s brooches that the scene is full

of Freudian psychosexual significance. Frank sees the rope

with which Jocasta hung herself as an umbilical cord and

also a strange sort of rape in the use of the long pins of

the brooches. According to Green, Frank states that “in the

persona of Jocasta, he ‘rapes his own eyes with her

phalluses’ ” . This is going a bit overboard

There appears to be a lot of focus on the symbolism of

eyes and seeing. There is a deeper meaning to the play than

that of some weird sexual conspiracy.

The physical blinding is already encouraging new

insight, awareness, and compassion. All qualities that

Oedipus was lacking before his horrible situation started.

The Chorus asks Oedipus: “What god was it drove you to rake

black / Night across your eyes?” And Oedipus replies in


Apollo, Apollo, Dear Children, the god was Apollo, He

brought my sick,

sick fate upon me. But the blinding hand was my own!

How could I bear to

see When all my sight was horror everywhere?

(Sophocles, )

There is more the just “bitter irony” played out by an

incredible string of coincidence, and that is could be more

than a story of a man who is humbled by his incredible down

fall. It shows the respect and attitudes that people had

during Sophocles life time. The god that is the puppet

master seems to be an incredibly cruel one.

It can be said that those who would give the play a

Freudian interpretation have occasionally gone off into some

extremely strange waters with their observations (like the

one when Oedipus is blinded and asks Creon for his daughters

so he can have another incested relationship.).

Nevertheless, suspicions should never be ceased because of

the complexity of the poem. After all, writers were not as

blunt as they are today.

Rather the constant and consistent use of irony

indicates that the gods had a very specific lesson in mind

for the mortals involved. This lesson hinges on the “hubris”

but is not the main point of the play. Throughout the play,

those who show exreme pride in their own intelligence or

ability are always brought down by the invisible hand of

god. Perhaps it is not that the gods are vicious, but that

it is necessary to show the individuals who are overly proud

or arrogant who is the inevitable boss.

This true from the beginning of the play. If Laius had

accepted his fate and been a father to Oedipus, the events

would have probably changed even though he still may have

been killed by his son inevitably, perhaps incest would have

never taked place. If Oedipus had returned to Corinth and

told his foster parents of the prophecy, maybe he would have

learned more of the truth and possibly averted the

catastrophe. When Oedipus had his eyes, he could not see the

sourness of his own self. His pride was his constant

downfall. After he was blinded, he began to truly “see”

where his life had been lacking and where his priorities

truly lay with his children, especially with his vulnerable

daughters. The Irony seems to point him in this positive

direction even though he suffered hardships getting to the





Green, Janet M. (1993, Fall) Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex.”


Guralnik, David B., editor in chief (1968) Webster’s

New World Dictionary of the American Language. New York: The

World Publishing Co.