Oedipus tragic flaw is his hubris and excessive pride which leads to his downfall. Despite being warned throughout the play, Oedipus stubbornly refuses to accept his fate, insisting that he can escape it through his own intelligence and efforts. This arrogance blinds him to the truth and causes him to unwittingly commit terrible acts, including patricide and incest.
Oedipus Tragic Flaw and Its Consequences
Oedipus is the king of Thebes who, at the start of Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex, is told that the city is suffering because the person who murdered the previous king, Laius, has not been caught and brought to justice. Oedipus swears he will find the murderer and exile him. However, Oedipus does not know that he himself is the murderer.
Years before, Oedipus had been prophesied to kill his father and marry his mother. To avoid this fate, he left his hometown of Corinth never to return. On the journey away from Corinth, Oedipus got into a fight and killed a group of travelers, including a man who matches the description of Laius. He then continued on to Thebes and solved the riddle of the Sphinx, which resulted in him becoming king and marrying the newly widowed Queen Jocasta – his biological mother.
Oedipus tragic flaw is that he believes he can avoid fate through his own intelligence. When the truth starts coming out, Oedipus refuses to see it, lashing out at the prophet Tiresias who hints at the truth. When Jocasta tells him of the prophecy that her son would kill Laius and marry her, Oedipus still cannot see that she is describing his own story. Oedipus hubris makes him blind to the truth that is right in front of him.
The Impact of Oedipus Tragic Flaw on the Plot
Oedipus tragic flaw drives the plot forward. His refusal to accept the truth compels him to aggressively pursue it, leading to his shocking discoveries about his identity.
Ironically, if Oedipus had been more humble and accepted that fate cannot be avoided, the tragic events may not have transpired. It is his insistence that he can change his destiny through his intellect that causes Oedipus to flee Corinth and unwittingly stumble into his fate.
Oedipus flaw also adds dramatic irony to the play, as the audience knows Oedipus true identity long before he does. We watch with pity and fear as Oedipus hubris leads him closer and closer to horrifying revelations.
The discoveries prompted by Oedipus flaw – that he killed his father and married his mother – lead to his mother/wife Jocasta hanging herself and Oedipus gouging out his own eyes. Oedipus proud belief that he could outsmart fate results in terrible tragedy and pain.
Lessons We Can Learn from Oedipus Tragic Flaw
Oedipus story teaches us:
- The dangers of hubris and refusing to acknowledge one’s limits. Oedipus arrogance blinds him to the truth and leads to his suffering.
- The fruitlessness of attempting to thwart fate. Oedipus attempts to avoid his prophecy ironically seal his fate.
- The need for humility and willingness to accept help. Oedipus ignores all warnings, stubbornly believing he knows best, leading to disaster.
- The destructiveness of uncontrolled rage. When confronted with the truth, Oedipus lashes out destructively, gouging out his eyes.
- The importance of being mindful of parents and elders. Oedipus disrespect of his parents/elderly ultimately leads him to commit patricide.
Oedipus serves as a warning against unchecked pride. While confidence can be positive, Oedipus arrogant belief that he could avoid fate and know more than the gods leads to his tragic downfall.
The Relevance of Oedipus Tragic Flaw in Modern Storytelling
The concept of the tragic flaw – a personal weakness or shortcoming that leads to a hero’s downfall – remains hugely influential in modern storytelling. Oedipus is a classic example of this technique.
Many popular heroic figures are given tragic flaws which humanize them and provide an arc for growth and redemption. Examples include:
- Anakin Skywalker’s fear and susceptibility to the dark side in Star Wars.
- Dr. Strange’s arrogance and desire for control in Marvel movies.
- Walter White’s pride and hunger for power in Breaking Bad.
- Captain Ahab’s obsessiveness and single-minded desire for revenge in Moby Dick.
Like Oedipus, these characters all suffer from weaknesses and flaws that ultimately contribute to their undoing. By making protagonists flawed, writers create more complex and relatable characters. And the arc of the flawed hero struggling with their defects provides satisfying drama. Oedipus tragic story remains the blueprint.
In summary, Oedipus hubris, his refusal to acknowledge the boundaries of human knowledge, and his belief he can avoid fate through his intellect is his tragic flaw. This arrogance causes Oedipus to unwittingly commit terrible crimes and ultimately destroys him. Oedipus powerfully demonstrates the dangers of unchecked pride and how character flaws can drive dramatic, ironic plots. His tragic story remains the foundation of the tragic hero archetype.