Destiny, Fate, Free Will and Choice in Oedipus the King - Fate's Triumph
At the core of any tragedy there is a cruel change of fortune involved. This change of fortune is a key factor in man's demise and it can result in speculation that perhaps the gods plotted his ruin out of malice. To blame a higher power is the easy way to rationalize the downfall, but upon further investigation it becomes clear that it is actually man's attempt to escape his fate that leads to tragedy. Only when Oedipus was ruined did he realize his efforts to avoid what was pre-ordained were useless. Douglas Johnston states that "choice is at the heart of tragedy" (Johnston 14). In Sophocles' play Oedipus Rex Laius, Jocasta and Oedipus all choose to ignore Apollo's oracle; this decision, to attempt to escape fate, sets off a chain of events that leads to the defeat of these characters. We can only wonder how their lives may have differed if not for these fatal decisions. If one assumes that any attempts to control one's destiny will result in tragedy does the opposite also ring true? Perhaps the way to cheat fate is simply to accept it.
Even before his birth Laius and Jocasta have been told that their son's fate is to kill his father and marry his mother. They are determined to save themselves and decide that Oedipus must be killed before he is old enough to carry out the prophecy. This attempt to beat the gods immediately begins Oedipus' journey to ruin as he grows up in nearby Corinth thinking that his parents are King Polybus and Queen Meropé. By assuming Polybus and Meropé are his true parents Oedipus is in a situation where he can unknowingly kill his true father and marry his true mother. At the same time Jocasta and Laius let their guard down since their son is presumed dead. Jocasta wrongly believes that she is successful in getting rid of the son who is destined to marry her and even develops a touch of arrogance over the matter. When Teiresias tells Oedipus he is Laius' killer Jocasta confidently reassures him that divination is unreliable.
No man possesses the secret of divination.
And I have proof. An oracle was given to Laius...
That he should die by the hands of his own child,
His child and mine. What came of it? Laius,
It is common knowledge, was killed by outland robbers
At a place where three roads meet. As for the child,
It was not yet three days old, when he cast it out...
To perish on the empty mountain-side.
There, then, Apollo did not so contrive it.
The offspring did not kill the father; the father,
For all his fears, was killed- not by his son.
Yet such were the prophet's warnings. (709-723)
Clearly this shows Jocasta thinks she has outwitted the gods; as such she starts to behave carelessly. If Jocasta and Laius had both erred on the side of caution rather than letting themselves grow full with overconfidence perhaps the tragedy could have been...