Themes in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex

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Anthropomorphism refers to the attribution of human behavior to a god. In the story Oedipus, Anthropomorphism feature is prominent. The existence of gods and fate from the gods prevails. The gods have a higher of power, are immortal, omnipotent and omnipresent and thus evidencing anthropomorphic behavior. Sophocles incorporates the Anthropomorphism feature through the dominance of gods such as Zeus and Apollo who are termed to "the great masters of all the dark and depth of human life"(Sophocles 28). This aspect confirms the belief in the power of gods. Oedipus even says that ". . . You cannot equal the gods, your children know that. . . "(Sophocles 34). This proves the strong beliefs that people had in gods. Creon even confirms that "Only the gods can give you that"while talking to Oedipus and this acknowledges the higher authority that gods have in the society (Sophocles 19). Sophocles defames the gods in his story and portrays them to be harmful and evil. Gods decide to destroy the lives of humans instead of promoting equality and justice. Apollo is an evil god who destroys the life and family of an innocent man, Oedipus. Apollo also afflicts Thebe people with a dreadful plague and prophesizes the fate of individuals like Oedipus.


There is use of symbology in various parts of this narrative. This has been brought out by use of riddle of branches and chaplets and leaves, the plague, the relationship between Oedipus and Jocasta, pinning the legs with a skewer, the self-blinding of the king and many other events in the story as discussed below. The plague that befalls Thebes symbolizes crisis the kingdom is facing as a result committed by Oedipus of killing his father and marrying his own mother. Oedipus then looks for intervention from many great and minor people so as to search for the resolution to the problems they were facing. The pinning of young Oedipus' legs and the way he was defiled symbolizes scapegoat. Baby Oedipus is to be sacrificed by death so that King Laius and Queen Jocasta are relieved from the consequences of giving birth to him. This represents Oedipus who causes defilement in Thebes is supposed to sacrifice himself by death of exile so that its citizens could be relieved from the crisis.

The branches and chaplets of the olive trees as described earlier in the story symbolize the act of delegating. People of Thebes come together to save their kingdom from the plague. Oedipus then solves the riddle of the Sphinx and later succeeds to be the king.

Symbolism also comes out clearly by the self-blinding of Oedipus which represent self-punishment for the crimes he had committed against his parents and the citizens of Thebes. It represents a person who doesn’t see the things he does. Lastly the struggle against antagonistic forces described in the story represents the struggle for existence of the mortal.


This includes the setting of the story, the characters, conflict, and the main theme of the story.

Most part of the story takes place in the city of Thebes where Oedipus is born. The plot begins when the first oracle is told to King Laius and Queen Jocasta before Oedipus birth that their child will kill his father and marry his mother. A stranger then visits Corinth to tell Oedipus that he was not the biological son of King Polybus and Queen Meripe. Oedipus then goes to Thebes knowing that his real parents were Polybus and Meripe. On his way, he comes across and kills a man. He later finds out that the man was his biological father.

Oedipus then proceeds to Thebes where the Sphinx was taking control. He solves the riddle of the Sphinx and saves the kingdom which was falling and he is given the kingdom together with the Queen, who is his mother as a reward for this. Oedipus rules Thebes and as time passes, he gets four children with Jocasta. Another Oracle is sent from Apollo, through Jocasta’s brother Creon which demands the murderer of Laius to be uncovered and be exiled. The strongest conflict Oedipus has is the internal conflict where he tries to find out the truth about himself which he does not believe in. The external conflicts also influence most parts of the plot where he is seen in conflict with the gods, the citizens, and his mother and wife Jocasta.


The main purpose of motifs in a story is to catch the reader’s attention with the aim of supporting the themes in a story. There are three main motifs used in this plot as discussed below.

Sight and blindness

Oedipus is a renowned leader for his quick wit and being clear sighted which saves the city of Thesis. But on the other hand, ha is blind for the reality of his own life by him killing his father and marrying his mother. It is only revealed when he consults a prophet who is blind and when he realizes this, he blinds himself. This motif supports the theme of ignorance in which we can be blind to the reality about our lives but shy away from accepting it.

Sickness and self-harm

This is seen everywhere in the play. The citizens and the kingdom of Thebes are cursed with the plague which befalls them. Also, Oedipus marrying his own mother is seen as a sickness and when he finds out, he says, 'ill myself, by ill parents.' The only way to heal from the sickness is by self-harm or suicide. Jocasta commits suicide after hearing the truth and Oedipus blinds himself. This motif supports the theme of limits of freedom throughout the play.

Choice and crossroads

Crossroads represent choice and inevitability of making decisions. Thebe city is at crossroads between destruction which is sure and potential healing if the truth is revealed. Oedipus kills his father at crossroads. When the truth comes out, Oedipus falls at crossroads between exile and death. This motif also supports the theme of freewill which leads him to exile.

Themes in Oedipus

The limits of free will

The oracle that is told to King Laius and Queen Jocasta about if they give birth is ignored and they have a son. The son who is Oedipus when he grows up ends up killing his own father and marrying his own mother. When Oedipus tells Jocasta of the prophecy which he heard when he was a youth, they argue on what extent a prophecy should be trusted. When the truth finally comes out, Jocasta ends up committing suicide and Oedipus blinds himself and goes into exile.

Willingness to ignore the truth

When there is an investigation on the cause of death of King Laius, Jocasta says he was killed by strangers but Oedipus knows clearly that he is the one who killed the king but this is only revealed later. Also, King Laius and Queen Jocasta ignore the truth which was told through an oracle from the gods. This comes to pass as Oedipus commits the crimes.


Duality is seen after the death of Oedipus t father. Corinthian Messenger brings news that the father died of a natural death. The news comes as joy as it evidences that the prophecy was wrong that Oedipus would kill Polybus. The messenger also brings him sadness because he has lost his father. The second case of duality is seen from the quote "Burst out what will! I shall know my origin, mean though it is" (Sophocles 18). The phrase means that Jocasta is happy that she feels what it is to be a woman while at the same time she develops shame due to the circumstances that surround her birth. Again there is also duality when Oedipus finds out that Laius is his father and indeed, the prophecy of the gods was fulfilled. At first, he thought that his father was already dead. Also, he imagined that by killing Laius he would get what he wanted. However, he feels sad the death after realizing that he has killed his father. Duality in the character of Oedipus is seen throughout the story. He is from time to time trying to deviate right from wrong. In the beginning of the story, we see him treating everyone well and even when plague befalls Thebes, we see him taking control of it. But when he consults the seer, this changes and he blinds himself and goes to exile. Throughout the story, Oedipus is seen as a courageous man but later, we see him scared and unsure of himself thus, his character cannot be understood by the citizens.

Work Cited

Sophocles. Oedipus. Simon and Schuster, 18 Dec 2012.

November 24, 2023



Greek Mythology

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