Critical Essay on Symbolism of Lightness and Darkness in the Play Oedipus the King

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Oedipus the King is one of the ancient Greek plays that reveal how oracle prophecies were part of living in the Kingdoms that existed before. However, the symbolism aspect of lightness and darkness in literal and metaphorical perspectives seems to have dominated the play. Most of these symbolisms rotate around Oedipus, a biological son of Laius, the King of Thebes. The other character in the play who has been used to bring out the symbolism of sight and blindness is Jocasta, Oedipus’s biological mother whom he has obviously slept with and fulfilled the prophecies of the oracle. Tiresias, a blind prophet on the other hand is another character in the play through which the metaphoric aspect of sight or light is portrayed. This comes out due to the fact that he is capable of having a clear vision of what has happened and what will happen in the future regardless of his literal blindness.

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Physical Symbolism of Lightness and Darkness in the Play

One of the incidents in the play Oedipus the King that brings out the symbolism of lightness and darkness is that which lies with the people of Thebes who believe that they are liberated from the riddle of Sphinx after it was solved by Oedipus. After correctly ascertaining that a creature that walks in fours in the morning, two at noon and three in the evening is a man (Sophocles, 10), the people of Thebes kingdom believed that Oedipus was wise hence rewarding hi with the Kingship thrown oblivious that he is the person who killed King Laius, whose death brought another plague to them. This aspect of the play brings out the realization that the people of Thebes thought they were in the light by endorsing Oedipus for the Kingship thrown just because of the riddle that he had solved, while the truth of the matter is that he was the genesis of the plague that later affects them. This occurrence happened without any of the main characters realizing that Oedipus was indeed the biological son of Laius and that he was the person behind the murder of the King, something that Oedipus himself was did not know.

Secondly, Oedipus believes that he has physically escaped the prophecy of the oracle that he will kill his biological father by running away from Polybus and Merope of Corinth Kingdom. This was because he believed that the King of Corinth, Polybus together with his wife were his biological parents and by leaving Corinth, he could not stand a chance of killing his father and sleeping with his mother (Oedipus the King, 2). However, this does not turn out to be the case as he meets his biological father on his way to Thebes and after a small confrontation, he kills him thus fulfilling the oracle’s prophecy. Oedipus also receives a message from Corinth that Polybus is dead making him further believe that he escaped the wrath of killing his biological father. This incident simply reveals that even though Oedipus had the literal sight, his metaphorical vision of realizing that Polybus and Merope were not his biological parents and by staying with them in Corinth might have protected him from killing his father was not there. It is therefore clear that he was walking in darkness and had a blind vision yet he thought that he was heading in the right direction and towards the light only to fulfill the Oracles prophecy.

The Personality of Jocasta in Oedipus the King

Jocasta on the other hand gives her infant to the shepherded as a way of removing him from the family. She does this to prevent him from fulfilling the oracle’s prophecy of him killing his father and sleeping with her (Cameron, 7). This way Jocasta believes she has helped in solving the situation instead, she has not only put herself in the dark but she has done so to the entire family of Laius. This is because both Laius and herself fail to recognize their biological son Oedipus as they meet later. Regarding this incident, the symbolic aspect of darkness and lightness comes out that Laius and Jocasta tend to believe that everything is in light normal by throwing their son in the wilderness. However, this is not the case as the opposite is what exactly happened since both of them are in the dark. Oedipus is left in the dark of who and where his biological parents are, while at the same time Laius and Jocasta on the other hand are also in the dark regarding the fate of their son Oedipus. The implication to this event is that fate ends up bringing these families together but since both of them are in the dark and cannot even recognize one another, they end up fulfilling the oracle’s prophecy that they had tried to prevent.

The Implication of Metaphysical Symbolism of Lightness and Darkness

The implication of metaphysical symbolism of lightness and darkness in the play Oedipus the King comes out mainly through Tiresias. Metaphysical aspect is a style that was being used by ancient poets, whereby it was being used to bring out the comparison between the real physical nature of the event and those that are beyond the physical nature. The majority of the characters in the play Oedipus the King though perceive things through their present physical nature instead of having a perspective that surpasses their physical presence. A good example includes Jocasta, the biological mother of king Oedipus whom she later slept with. Being in darkness about who killed her husband, Jocasta believes that bandits at the crossroads killed Laius and not Oedipus as proclaimed by Tiresias. Jocasta even goes further telling Oedipus not to take any notice about the prophets claiming that they had earlier lied to them that their son would kill her husband (Brunner, 12). Consequently, this is not the case since Tiresias the prophet was right as the revelations clearly indicate that Oedipus was the real killer of his biological father Laius. These revelations, therefore, imply that Jocasta, who was in the dark about the existence of her son Oedipus though not blinded, failed to look at things beyond their physical appearance hence failing to realize that Oedipus killed her husband and that he was also his son.

What Is Tiresias Role in Oedipus the King

Another incident in the play whereby Tiresias metaphysical vision comes out is that he clearly describes the murderer of Laius the King to Oedipus, yet Oedipus fails to figure out that it is him being described. Tiresias goes even further to plead with Oedipus to abandon the search of Laius’s killers but Oedipus insists that he be told who the killers were. After Tiresias finally spills the beans that Oedipus is the king’s killer, Oedipus turns angry and begins to mock Tiresias claiming that Tiresias lacks sight. Tiresias on the other hand hits back at him saying that Oedipus is blind (Cameron, 13). Going by these occurrences it is clear that even though Tiresias lacks physical sight since he is physically blind, he instead obtains metaphysical vision, as he is capable of seeing things beyond their physical form. On the other hand, Oedipus who thinks to have sight ends up realizing that he only possesses physical sight and not metaphysical sight the same as Tiresias. The lack of metaphysical vision on the side of Oedipus, therefore, indicates that he was indeed in the dark about his own past actions.

Symbolism and Significance of What Happened to Oedipus

Implications of the lack of metaphysical vision among most of the characters in the play is that when they finally realize that they have been in the dark they get ashamed and end up engaging in hurting themselves? For instance, Jocasta ends up committing suicide by hanging herself just after coming into the realization that Oedipus, who has had two daughters, is her biological son who was given to the shepherd (Cameron, 12). This aspect, therefore, reveals that she was held up in the darkness after giving her infant to the shepherd and that is why she kills herself when exposed to the light. This is all due to her lack of metaphysical vision. Oedipus on the other hand comes to the realization that even though he had physical eyesight he still failed to observe the bad actions he had taken since leaving Corinth’s kingdom. He, therefore, ends up plucking out his own eyes for the fear of looking at other unscrupulous actions he had done. He even gets ashamed of being with his half daughters/sisters as he requests to be exiled. These actions further reveal that he has been living his life in the dark and therefore after coming into the life of lightness, he does not want to engage or observe any other bad action from himself.


The play Oedipus the King generally brings the symbolism of lightness and darkness throughout the scenes. It clearly depicts how the majority of its characters were lost in the dark throughout their lives within the play only to end up realizing it, in the end, thanks to the revelations of prophet Tiresias. All along Jocasta believed that by taking their infant son into exile, they had prevented the fulfillment of the oracle’s prophecy. However, this is what duped them into darkness as they did not have control of their son and hence the leeway to the fulfillment of the oracle’s prophecy. Laius and his wife Jocasta also fail to come to the realization that there is a possibility to the fulfillment of the prophecy even after giving their infant son to the shepherd. All this is because both King Laius, her wife Jocasta, and Oedipus all did not possess metaphysical aspects of vision that could have helped them look at things beyond their physical form and into lightness (Oedipus the King, 2). However, Tiresias is portrayed as the only character in the play who against all odds, beats his physical blindness as he sees things beyond their physical nature or appearance hence bringing light to those who were physically sighted but metaphysically blinded.

Works Cited

Brunner, M. "King Oedipus Retried" Rosenberger & Krausz, London, 2001

Cameron, Alister. The Identity of Oedipus the King: Five Essays on the Oedipus Tyrannus. New York University Press, 1968.

Oedipus the King. RicherResourcesPublications, 2007.

Sophocles. Oedipus the King. ReadHowYouWant. com, 2008.

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