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In this view, Oedipus's only wrong action was attempting to thwart fate, which only caused him false hope. Thus, this interpretation of the story suggests that fate is supreme, cannot be changed, and is the guiding rule of humans' life. In fact, this view even goes as far as to imply that humans do not have free will -- all is at the mercy of fate.
But James Gould points out that if Oedipus is a tragic hero than he must have a tragic flaw. McHugh agrees with that statement, suggesting that the story does suggest that Oedipus does not have free will and is controlled by fate, but that he also has a tragic flaw that ends up getting him into trouble For McHugh, that flaw is pride. She argues that Oedipus has the same inflated opinion of himself that afflicted other tragic heroes. McHugh describes this pride by saying that heroes like Oedipus and Media have "overwhelming arrogance," and that "their inability to recognize their own flaws…lead to a dual defeat in the battle of person vs. self." McHugh's argument is based on the fact that Oedipus's pride allows him to believe he can "outsmart" fate by leaving his home town, but that action just reinforced the tragedy that fate had planned for him. She goes on to recount what she believes is Oedipus's prideful killing of Laius, as well as the pride he holds for his own accomplishments.
That McHugh regards Oedipus as a prideful character is a subject of some debate, but is still plausible. Where one reading of the play suggests Oedipus is simply acting in the kingly manner that is not only expected of him, but that helps to put his subjects at ease, another might suggest that he is prideful and that his tragedy is a punishment for that pride. In fact, X.J.'s humorous poem, "Blues for Oedipus" suggests that Oedipus is a sinful person who must be punished:
You'd come a cropper,
Gods dished you the shit
Like you deserves
Now your eyeballs
From they optic nerves (289).
While amusing, this poem succinctly summarizes why some believe Oedipus should, indeed, be punished. Still, McHugh's argument is troubling. She suggests that the lesson Oedipus learns is that not even the smartest or the most prideful men can change fate. This would imply that fate had set Oedipus up for failure from the beginning. Oedipus can learn no moral lesson, and neither can the reader, because McHugh suggests that fate has determined the outcome of the situation and the fact that Oedipus is prideful. Another reading of the story, however, could suggest that Oedipus's pride is what results in his shame, and that the fateful prophecies are just coincidences -- Oedipus is punished for his pride.
Thus, at the end of Oedipus the King the readers still have many questions. Was Oedipus a good man and a good king who just suffered a horrible tragedy? Is Sophocles trying to suggest that bad things happen to good people because of fate, that every person's fate is written in stone and cannot be changed? Or, is Oedipus an overly prideful king who suffers a tragedy because of this, all discussion of fate aside. Are humans free to make their own decisions, or are we fated to do what we will do and be punished for it anyway? While Oedipus the King does not answer these questions, the fact that Sophocles poses them allows readers to consider their own beliefs regarding the issues of free will, fate, pride, and punishment.
Gould, John. "The Language of Oedipus." Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations:
Oedipus Rex. Ed. Harold Bloom. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. 143-160. Literature and Criticism Online. Thompson Gale. Galileo. 19 April 2007.
Kennedy, X.J. "Blues for Oedipus (Poem)." Poetry. 190.4 (2007): 289.
McHugh, Diana. "Fate vs. Free Will." Literary Theme: Fate vs. Free Will.
Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. 1-2. Literature and Criticism Online. Thompson Gale. Galileo. 19 April 2007.
"Sophocles." Moonstruck Drama Bookstore. n.d. 19 Imagi-nation.com April 2009.
Sophocles. "Oedipus The King." The Internet Classics Archive. n.d. Massachusetts
Institution of Technology.
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