Oedipus The King

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 10th grade April 2001

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"Oedipus the King" It is very difficult to distinguish if Jocasta in "Oedipus the King" is a sympathetic character or not. Both sides of the issue can stand equally according to what one may think. One could say that her task from the gods is to test the faiths of others, especially that of Oedipus, which she does. After accusing Creon of conspiracy and treason, Oedipus relates to Jocasta the details of his meeting with Teiresias. Jocasta proceeds to plant doubts of the gods by telling Oedipus the story of the Oracle and the circumstances surrounding Laius' death. She excitedly tells Oedipus that his prophecy was obviously untrue, though it wasn't, and by doing so she attempts to hint that the oracles - and thus the gods - are false. By putting this doubt in Oedipus' mind, the gods are able to test his faith, and his ruling power, through Jocasta - a test that he fails until it is too late.

Why, then, could one say that Jocasta is not a sympathetic character? It is because she tries to avoid an earlier prophecy. By tying her child's feet together and casting him out, she attempted to defeat the gods, and this of course angered them. Her punishment, then, was to test the beliefs of the very child she cast out and therefore is bound to get burnt.

"Oedipus the King" is Sophocles' attempt to show the Greeks that they could not avoid the dealings of the gods, or they may be forced to conspire against the very people they should love most. Jocasta is, in this way, a victim. Though it is by her own doing that this penalty was cast upon her; it was not something she was happy to do, which becomes apparent when she realizes the truth in her earlier prophecy. It is at this moment that she becomes aware of her punishment, and in desperation kills herself.

Jocasta is a victim in Oedipus the King, but not as much as she is a catalyst for Oedipus' own victimization. She keeps her faith throughout and tries to relieve Oedipus of his. Because of this, readers may in turn pity her and despise her both at the same time.