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The Irony of Blindness
In literature, the two prominent forms of blindness, physical and metaphorical, are often very closely related and dependent on each other to exist. In Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, the significance of this relationship is carried even further as it is soon established that the two cannot actually coexist. (Searle, 7) In this play, there are many hints of irony laced throughout the tragedy. “Oedipus Rex is a tragedy of a man who attempts to flee a prophecy out of fear of what the future may hold for him, and in doing so blindly falls straight into his tragic fate.” (Ahl, 117) The irony is that he “blindly falls” with the physical ability to see. It is ironic how Oedipus cannot see the truth throughout the entire story until he blinds himself, physically; he is able to see that the oracles were exactly right.
To be blind is “to be made without sight of certain objects or knowledge of certain facts that could serve for guidance.” (www.merian_webster.com) The theme of blindness cannot be considered unless the two types of blindness involved are defined. Physical blindness can be defined as an “inability to see,” whereas metaphorical blindness is a person’s “unwillingness to understand or discern.” (Stein, 19) All throughout Sophocles’ play these two forms of blindness are carefully intertwined and balanced.
In the beginning, it is shown that the character of Oedipus has perfect physical vision. “He is blind, however, to the truth about himself and his past, even as he is so desperate to bring it all to light.” (Jones, 139) Oedipus is predestined to murder his father and marry his mother. He thinks that he is clever enough to escape his fate and trick the gods because he is a man of luck. Ironically, Oedipus is actually extremely unlucky as he blindly follows a path that he thinks will lead him away from his predestined fate. In reality, this path leads him directly to it. He desperately wants to know, to see, but he cannot. At this point, it is obvious what Oedipus's action must be: to overcome the blindness.
People that have lost an ability to use a sense usually gain strength in another sense. If there is no hearing, then the sense of smell might be stronger. If there is no feeling, the sense of taste might become more sensitive. If the there is no sight, a six sense is known to form in some cases and that is the sense of ESP. (Carroll, 14) “Extrasensory perception is getting information from other than the 5 senses that everyone uses as their primary means. It is the increase of their mind power that enables them to send and receive information almost at will to influence things that are important to them.” (Broek, 131) A character in the story of Oedipus has developed this power and knows of Oedipus’ fate.
Tiresias is old, weak, and blind. He has been given an amazing power, which allows him to foresee the events in a person’s life. What Teiresias lacked in his ability to see the world, he made up for in being able to see a person’s heart; a skill that nearly cost him his life after a lengthy argument with Oedipus. “A man who understands the truth without using sight; Oedipus is the opposite, a sighted man who is blind of the truth right before his eyes.” (Lloyd, 142) “By taking great pains to stress Oedipus’ taunting in his encounter with the prophet that Tiresias is ‘blind, [both in his] ears and mind as well as [his] eyes.’” (Lloyd, 140) He proves the theory about the irony of blindness to be true in the story.
“The character of Tiresias has had his physical sight sacrificed in order to have the gift of prophecy, while the character of Oedipus finds it necessary to physically blind himself when, for the first time, he is finally able to see the truth about his own fate.” While gifted with an outward sense of sight, he lacked the knowledge of his own sinful actions. (Jebb, 67) Oedipus is the one who cannot see the truth. Oedipus was not expecting that the sin that he could not see himself was to blame for the
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Oedipus the King, Operas, Oedipus, Tiresias, Sophocles, Irony, Visual impairment, Blindness, Oedipus at Colonus
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