Oedipus: Weaker Than Emotions

This paper is a literary analysis of the story Oedipus. It was written for a class. I am looking for feed back on it.

Oedipus: Weaker Than Emotions

Oedipus is a classic Greek drama where Fate is portrayed as an enemy. A powerful man does horrendous acts with no knowledge of doing so. This is a bizarre element of life to think a wise and power person such as Oedipus can be driven to the point of self-mutilation. With his own knowledge Oedipus solves the Sphinx riddle. Then, he is forced to look foolish. Fate uses emotions in its process of creating a fool out of Oedipus. The emotions are like loins stocking their prey waiting for a time to strike, and when they do it is all powerful. When critics debate Oedipus through psychoanalysis emotions are relevant in their discussion.

            Currently, critic’s discussions focus on the fact that Oedipus tears out his eyes in self-punishment even though he unwittingly committed the offense. The idea of Oedipus being overwhelmed from his unknown actions make critics wonder what emotion drove this need for self-punishment. This question brings different views to the table. Freud proposes one of these views. He points out, “the guilt of Oedipus was not palliated by the fact that he incurred it without his knowledge and even against his intention” (qtd. In Hartocollis 315). Hence, Freud suggests that even though he commits the immoral act out of blindness, the taboo still brings overwhelming amounts of guilt to him. The guilt is the reason Oedipus feels the need to punish him self (qtd. In Hartocollis 315).

            The suggestion that guilt drove Oedipus to self-punishment is reasonable; however some critics have found that there may be a different reading of the incident. These critics believe Freud is over looking some important characteristics, mainly Oedipus’s status as king (Schorske qtd. In Salberg).  The critic Hartocollis states this different view by saying, “[…] it was shame and not guilt that prompted Oedipus to blind himself, the feeling one has when exposed for a shameful act to the public rather than when one is haunted by a bad conscience” (315). Additionally, this side of the debate has further support. The first critic to support the idea of shame is Caparrotta. He states, that Oedipus has this idea of himself as a powerful king who saved a city, then is forced to discover his true identity, an identity that leaves him “exposed and vulnerable.” This exposure causes him to think everyone could see shame, which forces him to want to “become literally invisible to himself, a desperate act of disappearance and self extinction” (345).

            This exposure of Oedipus’s true self brings shame to him, but as one critic writes, it is a little deeper than just exposure. This critic Whitman-Raymond, does account for the fact that Oedipus is pushed to see a completely different person than a wise and powerful king. However, he adds, it is not just the exposure causing the shame (347). It is Oedipus’s underlying desire for recognition which leads to the act of self-punishment because now he will be recognized as something shameful, not powerful (347). 

            On the other hand, some critics take the shame versus guilt debate and state that the shame or guilt is not to be the main focus. These emotions are just elements developing the main theme. Kilborne is a critic with this view. Kilborne states, blindness of Oedipus’s true identity is the reason for the self-punishment. Kilborne further supports that statement. Oedipus is ashamed and guilty, but those emotions do not bring the self-punishment, the reason is:

Oedipus realized how miserably he had failed his own ideals of himself and how the image he held up to others, the image that made him powerful, and the image to which he clung with such certainty, was the image that condemned him to ignominy, isolation, and banishment (289)

in other word through blindness the shame and guilt developed. 

In conclusion, Oedipus uses his wisdom to become a powerful king which bringing praise and honor to him. Then fate uses its power to force Oedipus into taboo behaviors. These behaviors place Oedipus into a perfect place for fates partners to strike. The emotions that consume Oedipus are the partners. Psychoanalysis begins to dissect which emotions these are. It is seen that guilt from doing the acts is one, and that Oedipus is ashamed of how people will view him. The way fate can push people into emotions that have such power opens up the idea that the tragedy here is not the act or the self-punishment. The tragedy is that the wise and powerful king Oedipus has no control of emotions. Fate places Oedipus into a test similar to the riddle of Sphinx. Oedipus is put into a position where he needs to use his wisdom or suffer defeat. Oedipus is quick on his feet with the sphinx, but when emotions he is not familiar with come into play he loses control. Thus, the tragedy is that emotions conquered wisdom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Caparrotta, Luigi. “Oedipal Shame, Rejection, and Adolescent Development.” American Journal of Psychoanalysis 63.4 (2003): 345. ProQuest Central. Web. 15 April 2010.

Hartocollis, Peter. “Origins and Evolution of the Oedipus Complex as Conceptualizes by Freud.” Psychoanalytic Review 92.3 (2005): 315. ProQuest Central. Web. 15 April 2010.

Kilborne, Benjamin. “Oedipus and the Oedipal.” American Journal of Psychoanalysis 63.4 (2003): 289. ProQuest Central. Web. 15 April 2010.

Salberg, Jill. “Hidden in Plain Sight: Freud’s Jewish Identity Revisited.” Psychoanalytic Dialogues 17.2 (2007): 197.  ProQuest Central. Web. 15 April 2010.

Whitman-Raymond, Lee. “Defect and Recognition in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.” The American Journal of Psychoanalysis 65.4 (2005): 341-352. ProQuest Central. Web. 15 April 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annotated Bibliography

Caparrotta, Luigi. “Oedipal Shame, Rejection, and Adolescent Development.” American Journal of Psychoanalysis 63.4 (2003): 345. ProQuest Central. Web. 15 April 2010.

            Caparrotta’s main focus is on defining and showing the effects of shame. The shame looked at is classified as Oedipal Shame, which Caparrotta ties to rejection. The analysis on shame is done by comparing a case study to the drama Oedipus. This comparison provides a definition of shame. Shame is a painful affect resulting from accepting the reality of one’s origins. This article is useful because it goes against Freud’s idea that guilt caused Oedipus’s self-mutilation. With the clear definition of shame knowledge of the emotion is provided, thus this article provides support for my idea of the tragedy.

.   Hartocollis, Peter. “Origins and Evolution of the Oedipus Complex as Conceptualizes by Freud.” Psychoanalytic Review 92.3 (2005): 315. ProQuest Central. Web. 15 April 2010.

            Hartocollis believes Freud’s psychoanalysis of Oedipus is the reason for the story’s popularity. Thus the article forms an argument based on Freud’s interpretation of Oedipus. Freud believes it is guilt that caused the self blinding, and this paper interjects an objection. This article’s interjection gave me a starting point for my search. The article would also help in my claim about the true tragedy in the play because it clearly relays Freud’s ideas. Freud’s ideas are viewed as scholarly, so they would give me strong support if used.

Kilborne, Benjamin. “Oedipus and the Oedipal.” American Journal of Psychoanalysis 63.4 (2003): 289. ProQuest Central. Web. 15 April 2010.

            Kilborne’s article is focused on addressing Freud’s view of Oedipus. Kilborne suggests that Freud’s ideas are only part of the theme, and points out that shame and blindness should have the same recognition as guilt. Kilborne supports his claim by giving his critical view on the element in Oedipus that Freud addresses. This allows the read to analyze between two view points. I could us this essay to support my idea on the tragedy because it broadens my knowledge of shame and guilt.

Salberg, Jill. “Hidden in Plain Sight: Freud’s Jewish Identity Revisited.” Psychoanalytic Dialogues 17.2 (2007): 197.  ProQuest Central. Web. 15 April 2010.

            Salberg’s article is the psychoanalysis of Freud. Its main focus is on Freud’ life; the article provides a better understanding of what influenced the theories of Freud. Salberg also counters some of Freud’s theories on Oedipus. This article would be the most difficult to use in support of my claim about the tragedy because it analyzes Freud’s life. Although I would be able give examples of guilt and shame in Freud’s life, which might be useful.

Whitman-Raymond, Lee. “Defect and Recognition in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.” The American Journal of Psychoanalysis 65.4 (2005): 341-352. ProQuest Central. Web. 15 April 2010.

            Whitman-Raymond explores two cases where subsequent shame and longing for recognition affect people. She sees the effects by taking a cases study and comparing it to Oedipus. Whitman-Raymond eventually develops the idea that blindness lead Oedipus to self-mutilation. She also points out that a longing for Recognition is the reason for Laius’s death. I could use this article because it provides a case study, which shows the effect of shame on someone outside of a myth. Also, I can use the case study as a comparison of how different people react to shame, and from that point build on why the tragedy is Oedipus’s inability to control emotion.

 

 

 

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2 Comments
  1. Krov
    Posted November 10, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    That seems to be a peculiar interpretation of Oidipos Tyrannos. My readings always pointed toward a conflict between Anthoropos / Zoôn (Man and its Soul – Essence) and Moïra, fate.

    The Greek tragedy is built upon that confrontation. Philosophy will help you understand it :
    - Man is characterized by his ability to act upon nature, to transform it (carve wood into a spear). This establishes a relation of ascendancy between Man and his surroundings, Nature.
    ==> Man is thus a creature of control, and transformation.

    - Fate can’t be fought against. Hence the tragedy because Man can not transform events building up against him.
    ==> Relevation (Apokalupsys) of Man’s weaknesses.

    I think Emotions are deliberately described as uncontrolled by Oidipos because it is a manifestation of the Tragedy of man’s weakness.

    Essentially, I think you didn’t go far enough in the analysis.
    That’s my 2 cents anyway.

    That’s one part of the Tragedy of course, because Oidipos Tyrannos is a masterpiece and isn’t so unidimentional.

    Aristotle described Man as a “Zôon Politikon” – A Political Animal, or rather a Social Creature. Men interact with other men, and it is what keeps them sane (an ermit can litterally not survive if he doesn’t not speak with God).

    Oidipos is alone in his Tragedy because :
    a) He is ignorant of his lineage
    b) He is King, and thus not on the same level as his subjects.
    c) Later on with Antigone, he is still alone because he is blind.

  2. Posted March 2, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Sorry it took me awhile to commment back.
    and this will be quick becasue I have to run, but that is what I was saying the tragedy is he could not control his surrounding or the sudden emotion fate brought on. As you say, we are characterized by how we act and his actions to fate (as you say we have no control over) were not wise and emotions won, a tragedy.

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