“A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it. ” (Jean de la Fontaine), a sobering reminder of the extent to which Oedipus and his parents, Jocasta and Laius from the play Oedipus the King by Sophocles fight a predetermined course plotted for them by the gods and written by the oracles, only for it to transpire tragically. Despite the inevitability of destiny Oedipus, Laius and Jocasta defy fate with the entirety of their being, for to acknowledge the lack of free will is to live in anguish.
Both Oedipus and his parents attempt to separate themselves from each other in an attempt to avoid their foretold fate. Unfortunately, they suffer the realization that, in spite of their intentions, their own actions had brought about their fated ends. As the play comes to a close, the remaining subjects of the prophecy use demonstrations of free will to comfort themselves. Oedipus, the tragic hero of the play, is a proud man who reveals his drive to evade his cruel fate in how quickly and excessively he reacts upon hearing the prophecy of an incestuous relationship with his mother and patricide the gods had designed for him.
He “[flees] away, putting stars/ Between [him] and Corinth, never to see home again” (Sophocles, 47) and murders a group of travelers who took notice of him, an undue precaution. By flying from his home in Corinth he hopes to foil the god’s plan by excommunicating those who he believes to be his parents. Oedipus finds refuge in Thebes and makes a rash decision. He sets up an obstacle to an incestuous relationship with his mother by marrying another, Jocasta, unaware that she is his mother.
A committed relationship would make it socially unacceptable and morally distasteful to him to have relations with any other woman than one he is married to. Unfortunately for Oedipus what he believes is not true for he is ignorant of his true lineage. His Corinthian mother is his adoptive mother, Jocasta being his biological mother and a traveler he kills on his flight to Thebes his biological father, Laius. An investigation causes him to learn of his true lineage, alerting him to his unintentional marriage to his mother and murder of his father.
Upon realizing that the prophecy was fulfilled, Oedipus gouges out his eyes and banishes himself from his own kingdom, actions not predicted in Apollo’s prophecy, to hide from the revelation that his choices may not have been his own. His statement “It was my own hand that struck the blow. Not [Apollo’s]” (62) is an attempt to convince himself that he is not directed by a god, something that even a man as confident and brave as himself fears worse than grave bodily harm and expulsion from society.
Jocasta and Laius demonstrate their aversion to the prophecy in a way similar to Oedipus, they distance themselves from another person essential to the fulfillment of the prophecy in an extreme manner; going as far as to cast out “[their] child … not yet three days old … with riveted ankles/To perish on the empty mountain-side”(45). Feeling threatened by their future, Jocasta and Laius resort to child abandonment, effectively infanticide, to alter what is to come. After Laius’ death, Jocasta speaks skeptically of prophecy, exclaiming “A fig for divination!
After this/I would not cross a road for any of it. ” (49). This denial of the prophecy’s credibility is meant to protect her from the atrocity of who she had married. The hypocrisy of first believing that a prediction is grounds enough to take the drastic measure of murdering her own son then claiming all predictions are fallacious, is to avoid the realization of the uselessness of her actions, a realization that would cause her much anguish. Jocasta is forced out of denial and commits suicide at the same time that Oedipus discovers the truth.
She feels so guilty for her despicable actions which could not alter the prophecy’s course and for her incestuous sins that she takes her own life to end the suffering. Oedipus’s blinding and banishment are penance self-inflicted because of the guilt he feels for the sins he committed. Likewise, Jocasta’s suicide is because of her own guilt. This intentionality as they meet their fate and their swift, excessive actions as they avoid it are a true show of how man will always endeavor to cast off the binds of spiteful providence.
Death, physical suffering and ostracism are preferable to the agony of the acquiescence to a predetermined course. All people need to feel that they can actively forge their own niche in life despite the pressures, routines and expectations that are placed upon them in society. “Whatever limits [man], [he] [calls] fate”(Ralph Waldo Emerson) and man must fight these barriers, even if insurmountable, to live, or accept them and merely exist.