“”We are only as blind as we want to be -Maya Angelou. There are a variety of connotations to the phrase “”blind. Some people tend to view blindness as a physical disability that resembles inferiority. Others believe that blindness defines ignorance as one is unaware of their surroundings or actions. However, the public’s attitudes towards blindness are misconceptions as even a person who can physically see can also be blind. As people become biased toward certain views, it can cause them to become blinded by even the most evident facts. In the play, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus’s pride blinds him to the truth as he tries to control his fate, until he ultimately realizes the truth once he is physically blind.
At the beginning of the play, Oedipus views himself as a hero. After solving the complicated sphinx riddle and being crowned king of Thebes, Oedipus is confident as he begins his opening scene with a boast: “”I, Oedipus, whose name is known afar (25). Oedipus views himself as an honorable character and reveals this with pride as he explains that he is even well-known to lands far from Thebes. Feeling powerful and intelligent, Oedipus is confident that he can solve the answer to any riddle given to him without difficulty, such as in detecting the murderer of the previous king, Laius. As Oedipus sends for the blind prophet, Teiresias, and he refuses to reveal the name of the murderer, Oedipus does not hesitate to reply, “”I tell you I do believe you had a hand in plotting…this very act (35). Oedipus displays his arrogance as he is unwilling to place his pride aside and calmly heed to the prophet of truth. His pride consumes him, causing him to act impetuously towards the prophet as he insults him fearlessly in blind rage before taking a moment to understand Teiresias’s reason for why he hesitates to reveal the murderer’s name.
Oedipus’s pride leads to his downfall as it acts as an impediment to the truth. As he repeatedly threatens Teiresias to reveal the name of Laius’s murderer, and he finally replies with Oedipus’s name, Oedipus reacts with disgust and rage. He refuses to believe himself as the killer and as he forces Teiresias to repeat the name, it fuels his anger as he revolts by insulting Teiresias in order to protect his ego. Teiresias does not remain quiet in the midst of Oedipus’s insults as he replies, “”Have you eyes, and do not see your own damnation? Eyes, and cannot see what company you keep? (37). Through the repetition of the word “”eyes”” Teiresias mocks how even though Oedipus was granted with the physical ability to see, he is still unable to discern that he had committed Laius’s murder. On the other hand, Teiresias is blind but can still foretell that Oedipus had committed the crime and could not escape from his fate. Oedipus’s hubris causes him to become blind to the fact that he had killed Laius and does not think practically that this incident may be connected with a murder he had committed before.
Through the conversation between Oedipus and the blind prophet, they demonstrate the symbolism behind sightedness and blindness. They reveal how sight represents an understanding of the truth; blindness represents ignorance. Irony surfaces as even though Oedipus can physically see, he is blind to the truth as he is not willing to accept that he had murdered Laius. Teiresias foretells, “”He that came seeing, blind shall he go…son, and husband to the woman who bore him; father-killer…when you can prove me wrong, then call me blind (38). Teiresias explains how as Oedipus entered as the King of Thebes, he was oblivious to the fact that he had not overcome the prophecy in which he would kill his father and marry his mother. However, Teiresias predicts that once Oedipus is exposed to the bitter truth, he will literally blind himself due to shame and guilt as he could not avoid the prophecy and will realize that he is responsible for creating the plague. Although Teiresias is physically blind, he can clearly see that Oedipus has not overcome the prophecy and also see that Oedipus will literally blind himself in the future. Oedipus and Teiresias are both blind during their conversation: Oedipus is blind to his fate and the blind prophet’s wisdom, while Teiresias is physically blind but possesses knowledge and the truth.
The symbolism behind sightedness and blindness can be shown through the Lady of Justice statue that appears in many courthouses and law institutions. With a blindfold covering her eyes, a sword in her hand, and holding a scale that is balanced, the Lady of Justice represents impartiality and morality for justice. Even though she is blindfolded, she is still able to detect the truth as eyes create one-sided perspectives that can lead to bias towards wealth, preference, and appearance. The Lady of Justice represents the blind prophet, Teiresias, because he is also physically blind but still has the power to identify the culprit for Laius’s murder. On the other hand, since Oedipus can physically see, his surroundings and judgement on certain characters distort his views on determining the truth. He does not accept Teiresias’s advice as the truth because he judges the prophet’s appearance as he views him as a helpless and weak man who is physically blind. The Lady of Justice demonstrates that eyes are not necessary for determining justice as it will influence one’s decisions of justice unfairly, such as on power, companionship, and identity.
Towards the end of the play, Oedipus still remains persistent in avoiding his fate. Even when the messenger reveals to Oedipus that Polybus was not his biological father and that he was given to him by one of King Laius’s men, Oedipus still does not begin to question that the prophecy may have come true. When Oedipus begins to recall an event in which he had murdered a man, he still refuses to believe that it had been Laius: “”If he still says robbers, it was not I; one is not more than one (49). Oedipus remains in disbelief and is blind to his reality as he nitpicks and finds faults in other statements in order to prove his denial in killing the king and protect his noteworthy status. In addition, Oedipus is even blind in observing Jocasta’s reaction as her face becomes flushed and tries to prevent Oedipus from learning the truth. Once Oedipus speaks to the shepherd and sees his wife hanging in their bedroom, he finally realizes that his efforts to escape from his fate were futile. As he blinds himself with a brooch, he exchanges his physical sight for knowledge and wisdom. Oedipus transitions from being metaphorically blind to the truth, to being physically blind, in order to symbolize how he has gained a new vision in realizing that he could not control his destiny.
Ultimately, in Oedipus Rex, Oedipus struggles with controlling his excessive pride as it causes him to act oblivious towards the obvious facts presented to him as he tries to suppress his fate. However, as the play transitions on, Oedipus soon realizes his inability to escape from his destiny as his pride leads to his destruction. At the end, Oedipus physically becomes what he had metaphorically been throughout the play: blind. As a result, Oedipus Rex demonstrates how blindness is a choice, not a physical disability, as even a person who can physically see can still act ignorant towards their actions and outcomes of their fate.
Sophocles. “”Oedipus Rex. The Theban Plays, Penguin Books, 1974, pp. 2568.
“”The Meaning Behind the Lady of Justice Statue. Heather & Little, 5 May 2016, heatherandlittle.com/restoration/the-meaning-behind-the-lady-of-justice-statue/.
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