The Oedipus Complex

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The Oedipus Complex
The Oedipus Rex is a tragedy of fate: its tragic effect depends on the conflict between the all-powerful will of the gods and the vain efforts of human beings threatened with disaster; resignation to the divine will, and the perception of one’s own impotence is the lesson which the deeply moved spectator is supposed to learn from the tragedy. . . .If the Oedipus Rex is capable of moving a modern reader or playgoer no less powerfully than it moved the contemporary Greeks, the only possible explanation is that the effect of the Greek tragedy does not depend upon the conflict between fate and human will, but upon the peculiar nature of the material by which this conflict is revealed. There must be a voice within us which is prepared to acknowledge the compelling power of fate in the Oedipus. . . this fate moves us only because it might have been our own, because the oracle laid upon us before our birth the very curse which rested upon him. It may be that we were all destined to direct our first sexual impulses toward our mothers and our first impulses of hatred and violence toward our fathers; our dreams convince us that we were. . . .King Oedipus, who slew his father Laius and wedded his mother Jocasta, is nothing more or less than a wish-fulfillment—the fulfillment of the wish of our childhood. . . . since our childhood we have succeeded in withdrawing our sexual impulses from our mothers and in forgetting our jealousy of our fathers. . . . Like Oedipus, we live in ignorance of the desires that offend morality, the desires that nature has forced upon us and, after their unveiling, we may well prefer to avert our gaze from the scenes of our childhood.”
Sigmund Freud

The Interpretation of Dreams

. . . quite apart from the value of Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex, the solution he proposes to the critical problem raised by calling the play a ‘tragedy of fate’ cannot be accepted. When he says that Oedipus’ fate affects us because ‘it might have been our own’ he has put his finger on an essential aspect of the tragedy, the universality of the theme, which of course extends far beyond the particular appeal which Freud himself here expounds. But the universal appeal of the theme, whether understood in psychoanalytical or other terms, does not explain the dramatic excitement generated by the tragedy. NO amount of symbolic richness—conscious, subconscious, or unconscious—will create dramatic excitement in a play which does not possess the essential prerequisites of human free will and responsibility. The tragedy must be self-sufficient: that is, the catastrophe must be the result of the free decision and action (or inaction) of the tragic protagonist.

The problem, stated in Freud’s terms is obviously insoluble. If the Oedipus Tyrannus is a ‘tragedy of fate,’ the hero’s will is not free, and the dramatic efficiency of the play is limited by that fact. The problem is insoluble; but luckily the problem does not exist to start with. For in the play which Sophocles wrote, the hero’s will is absolutely free and he is fully responsible for the catastrophe.”

Sophocles’ tragedy presents us with a terrible affirmation of man’s subordinate position in the universe, and at the same time with a heroic vision of man’s victory in defeat. Man is not equated to the gods, but man at his greatest, as in Oedipus, is capable of something which the gods, by definition, cannot experience: the proud tragic view of Sophocles sees in the fragility and inevitable defeat of human greatness the possibility of a purely human heroism to which the gods can never attain, for the condition of their existences is everlasting victory.”
Bernard Knox

Oedipus at Thebes

Is Freud right? Is there something natural and universal about what Freud calls the "first sexual impulse" and the "first impulse of violence?" Is this a “tragedy of fate” or does Oedipus have free will? Is Knox right? If Freud is right, does that mean that there is no free will? Comment on both Freud's and Knox's ideas, and argue that Oedipus does or doesn't have free will. Feel free to use quotes from the text of the play as well as from these excerpts.

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