Blindness and Truth In Oedipus
The idea of being able to "see" the truth becomes a common theme within the story of "Oedipus the King." Oedipus's inability to see the truth concerning his tragic fall is the direct result his character flaw of excessive pride. While Oedipus is only metaphorically blind, his blindness is presented in the following ways:
- In contrast to Tiresias who is physically blind but can still see the truth.
- Oedipus's blindness is also in contrast with the audience who is able to foresee Oedipus's tragic demise.
These notions of blindness work together within the story to reveal that it is not always physical blindness that can hamper our abilities to see.
Throughout the play, Oedipus waivers between being assertive and arrogant. In many scenes, Oedipus is depicted as a strong, confident leader. He expresses a willingness to protect his city and promises to punish the offender that has caused Thebes suffering even if the offender is a member of his household. His judgments are quick and assertive, as when he anticipates a need for the prophet Tiresias and sends for him before the suggestion is even made. In other scenes, Oedipus is depicted as arrogant. He brags about his abilities to solve the Sphinx's riddle, and insults Tiresias. When Tiresias, gives a prophecy that is unfavorable to Oedipus, Oedipus immediately assumes Tiresias is in league with his brother-in-law, Creon. Once he makes this rash assumption, it becomes difficult to convince Oedipus otherwise. These various displays of pride leaves Oedipus unable to see the truth behind the various prophecies he has been given throughout his life.
Oedipus's interaction with Tiresias takes on another level of dramatic irony as Oedipus insults Tiresias's blindness. Tiresias counters Oedipus's insults by insulting Oedipus's inability to see the truth. This interchange depicts Oedipus and Tiresias as character foils of one another, with the physical blindness of Tiresias exaggerating the depiction of Oedipus's blindness to the truth. Even after Tiresias blatantly tells Oedipus about the truth of his impending destiny, Oedipus's pride prevents him from seeing it.
Irony and Oedipus
The dramatic irony formed by the audience's awareness also exaggerates Oedipus's situation. His speeches are rife with references to his "seeing," and once he even comments about possessing the former king's bed, and creating "blood-bonds" with Laius (299). These comments would only encourage the audience's realization concerning Oedipus, while depicting him as even more naïve and blind to the truth.
Oedipus fulfills the shepherd's belief that "not a man on earth can see a day ahead, groping through the dark" (1069). His pride leaves him groping through the mystery of various prophecies even as those around him realize the true meaning of the words. His ultimate blindness becomes a physical manifestation of the psychological blindness that paralyses Oedipus throughout much of the play.