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Oedipus Rex | Motifs


Sophocles uses motifs, or dominant ideas woven throughout a literary work, to support his themes. A willingness to accept fate as represented by the oracle allows characters to live in the light. In contrast, the denial of fate forces characters to live in literal and figurative darkness.


The most important motif in Oedipus Rex is that of the oracle, which appears several times throughout the play to help the characters determine the truth even if it is not what they want to hear. The oracle, as well as Teiresias the prophet (who serves the purpose of the oracle), represents the fate of human beings as determined by the gods.

Light versus Darkness

Another motif is that of light versus darkness. This motif helps to reinforce the theme of blindness. At the start of the play, Oedipus says that, to avenge Laius, he will "shed light on darkness" and that "with the gods' help this will all come to light successfully, or else will prove our common ruin." His words link the concept of light with the revelation of knowledge and suggest that without knowledge darkness will prevail in the form of ignorance of the reason for the plague, causing "common ruin." Later the angry Oedipus tells Teiresias he lives in "endless darkness of the night" and thus cannot really affect someone who "can glimpse daylight." By the end of the play, when Oedipus discovers Teiresias has been right all along, he says, "O light, let me look at you one final time," meaning he will either die or blind himself, plunging into permanent darkness.

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