Would it ever seem reasonable for a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature to be associated with a king who murders his father and procreates with his mother? It is possible because of one quotation by the 1921 Nobel Prize Literature winner Anatole France, that he is connected to the notorious king Oedipus from Sophocles famous play, Oedipus Rex. It is only human nature to think wisely and act foolishly (Anatole France) best exemplifies the theme in Sophocles Oedipus Rex: fate cannot be cheated nor altered. It is human to try and change fate, which is a foolish act because it is impossible to do. This can be seen in many aspects of the play including the context and characters of the story and the hubris of the royal family; Jocasta, Lauis and Oedipus. Within each of these components many different literary devices can be used to further explain how the theme of the story relates to the quote by Anatole France.
A prime example can be seen in the 2nd Episode where Oedipus confesses everything to Jocasta from the prophecy to the incident when he killed a man similar to Lauis description. The parts of his monologue that best illustrate changing fate and being foolish are when Oedipus says, And so unknown to mother and father I set out for Delphihe the oracle flashed before my eyes a future great with pain, terrorI can hear him cry, You are fated to couple with your motheryou will kill your father, the man who gave you life! I heard all that and ranNow, Jocasta, I will tell you all. Making my way toward this triple crossroad I began to see a herald, then a brace of colts drawing a wagon, and mounted on the bencha man, just as youve described himI strike him in anger! I killed them all- every mothers son! This exemplifies the statement that trying to change fate is foolish because in attempting to avoid his awful destiny, he kills his own father. One might argue that this is not a well thought out example because Oedipus had no idea that one of the men he killed on the crossroads was his father. On the other hand, Oedipus did not have to kill anyone; he let his anger control him. This in turn always leads a person to tragedy. Descriptive diction is used to enhance the episode because in ancient Greek theatre, imagination was the only outlet for visual depictions of the most gruesome of scenes. One such scene is when the messenger describes Oedipus self-mutilation:
He rips off her brooches, the long gold pins
Holding her robes- and lifting the high,
Looking straight up into the points,
He digs them down the sockets of his eyes, crying
His voice like a dirge, rising, over and over
raising the pins, raking them down his eyes.
And at each stroke blood spurts down the roots,
splashing his beard a swirl of it, nerves and clots-
black hail of blood pulsing, gushing down.
Because of this fact, the word choice has the power to determine what the viewer and reader are visualizing in his or her mind. A clear example can be seen when Oedipus says, I am an abomination-heart and soul!. The use of abomination is ironic because Oedipus has created abominations by coupling with his mother rather than being an abomination himself.
There are other characters in the play besides Oedipus who exhibit that trying to change destiny is foolish; one such character is Jocasta. The Queen of Thebes was told that her son was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. Jocasta tried to cheat fate by giving the infant to a shepard to kill. Because she did not do the job herself the child remained alive to eventually come back to her as her second husband. Jocasta is the symbol for blissful ignorance because she attempts to stay unintelligent until the anagnorisis when she runs into her chambers and hangs herself but even then she never says the truth. Another character that attempts to change fate is Lauis. Like his wife, Jocasta, Lauis does not involve himself with the murdering of his son and because of his lack of involvement Oedipus was able to kill him. One might say that these are all coincidences and how could Jocasta be blamed for not knowing information. However Jocasta did know that Oedipus had a prophecy about killing his father and marrying his mother and she herself had the same prophecy. This can be seen when Oedipus says in his monologue, I can hear him cry, You are fated to couple with your mother you will bring a breed of children into the light no man can bear to see- you will kill your father, the one who gave you life! and when Jocasta says on page 208, Apollo was explicit: my son was doomed to kill my husband…
Jocasta, Lauis and Oedipus were not all connected through blood but also through their flaw, hubris. Since Lauis died even before the play starts his hubris is less evident. This allows for the focus to be on Jocasta and Oedipus because both of them were extremely essential to the outcome of the play. Both Jocasta and Oedipus were prideful because they thought that they could cheat the gods who were the dealers of fate. In ancient Greece, the gods frowned upon mortal humans who thought that they were equal to the immortal inhabitants of Mt. Olympus. Oedipus, being the protagonist was slightly more prideful than his mother because he voiced his opinion about the gods more than she did. One example is when Oedipus says in the 1st Episode, You pray to the Gods? Let me answer your prayers. Come, listen to me-do what the plague demands: youll find relief and lift your head from the depths. This shows that Oedipus thinks that he is higher than the gods when in actuality he is lower than the lowest ranks because he fathered children of incest. An example of Jocastas hubris can be seen when she says, So much for prophecy. Its neither here nor there. From this day on, I wouldnt look right or left. When Jocasta says this she calls the gods lairs because they are the beings that tell the oracle the future.
Sophocles Oedipus Rex is a play about mankinds addiction for the desire to be in control of fate. This can be seen in Oedipus running from Corinth and Jocasta sending her son to be killed. Anatole Frances quotation, It is only human nature to think wisely and act foolishly puts the human weakness of thinking with his mind but acting out what is in his heart in an extremely concise manner. Literary devices are a key indicator of where the author makes his important points. One such literary device is the use of fate as a motif in the story. Another example is the use of diction to give the reader a vivid and focused picture of what is happening. By looking at these little clues and the characters in the play and the context of the play we can see that the control of fate is truly the tragic flaw of human nature.