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In Sophocles’ legendary play, Oedipus Rex, and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, both embody the common theme of sacrifice. In Oedipus Rex, Sophocles uses sacrifice as a key theme, in which the main character gives up his kingdom for the sake of the people. Similarly, in The Metamorphosis, the main character sacrifices his own life for the good of his family. Both works use the motif of sacrifice to give an example of humanity, and in the course of each of the plots, demonstrates why individual sacrifice is always called upon in life.
Sophocles, a Greek playwright, has written a number of different works, one of his most significant being Oedipus Rex. In the play, Oedipus is a child who was prophesized to have a horrendous future; “to his own sons he shall be found related as a brotherâ€¦ and of the woman from whose womb he came both son and spouse; one that has raised up seed to his father, and has murdered him” (17). Fearing such a future, Oedipus’ biological parents tried to sacrifice him, sentencing him to be killed, but the shepherd who they assigned to deliver the daunting task, took pity on the child, Oedipus, giving him to the king of Corinth. As Oedipus grew up in Corinth, he eventually discovered the prophecy for himself. Also hoping to avoid such a tragedy and preserve his adoptive father’s life, along with his own dignity, Oedipus leaves Corinth, sacrificing his future as a king of Corinth and his princely lifestyle. However, on his trip to Thebes, after leaving Corinth, he encounters his biological father, who he does not recognize, ends up killing him, and marrying his biological mother, ultimately fulfilling the prophecy. The story centers around a struggle for Oedipus to avenge the previous king of Thebes, Oedipus’ father, who he had unknowingly killed, and even more so, to stop a plague that has ravaged the city. As the story unfolds, Oedipus finally discovers the truth about his actions and acts acting accordingly, he sacrifices his kingship and lifestyle to end the plague devastating Thebes. Sophocles uses the theme of sacrifice throughout the play to show that the individual, despite their position, is never more important than the general populous. Oedipus does not struggle to keep power, nor does he try to cover up the truth, instead he understands his role, and what he must do as a king, to care for his people. By leaving his kingdom, he ends the plague, which in turn benefits his subjects, which makes him a hero. There is a similar correlation in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Gregor Samsa, the main character in The Metamorphosis, is transformed “into an enormous bug” (11) in the beginning of the story. As the story further unfolds, it is revealed that Gregor is a very obedient son and worker, who has never missed a day of work and provides everything for his family, from the large apartment they live in to the food they eat. Gregor sacrifices his dreams and aspirations for the good of his family, although he is miserable at his job and dreams of quitting, he drags on, and will not quit until his father’s debts are paid off. This is what makes Gregor such a human character, for animals and bugs think primarily of for themselves before others, but Gregor, though physically a bug still cares deeply for his family and sister in particular. Gregor continues to make sacrifices throughout his days as a bug, to hold onto what little humanity he has left. Kafka’s intention in having Gregor decide to stay with his family the whole time, instead of escaping into the world is to show the humanity of personal sacrifice. Gregor on his own free will remains inside his room, never making any attempt to escape, in doing so he sacrifices a free and happier life in the wild, to hold onto one of the only physical reminders he has left, of his humanity, his room. In the end, Gregor’s humanity prevails and he makes the ultimate sacrifice, to let himself die; “he felt relatively comfortable… he remained in this state of vacant and peaceful contemplationâ€¦ and his last breath issued faintly from his nostrils” (49). His death lifts a huge burden off his family’s shoulders and allows them to be free to live out their lives, instead of being pinned to the oversized apartment and care for Gregor. Both Sophocles and Kafka have similar a reasoning, when they allow the main character of each story to die or depart. Kafka’s making Gregor to die and Sophocles’ making Oedipus to peacefully resign, signifies the main personality of sacrifice its selflessness, for there is no force that compels any of these characters to give themselves up, but they valiantly do so anyway.
The plots of both stories develop in similar ways. The story leads to a climax, in which a last and greatest sacrifice is made and where the story quickly ends without a definite conclusion. The authors’ purpose for writing their works in such a format may have been to leave a strong and lasting impression on the reader after the story ends. Sacrifice is also a very strong focal point for both works. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus must sacrifice his kingship and lifestyle for the good of his people; and in The Metamorphosis, Gregor sacrifices his life for the good of his family. By including sacrifice several times as a motif, the author hints at the reader to make note that it is a major theme in the story. The author’s purpose in having a central character sacrificing for a greater group of people, is to add their own personal view and reasoning on why sacrifice is important, which is to overall better a community. In the authors eyes, a person is only one person and to be significant, that one person must do something to better the community in which they life. Both works also begin and end in a very similar ways. The Metamorphosis and Oedipus Rex both begin in the midst of action, in The Metamorphosis, Gregor is immediately introduced as an insect, “when Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed into an enormous bug”(11); and in Oedipus Rex, the city is introduced in the midst of a crisis, “the whole city teems with incense-smoke, and paean hymns, and sounds of woe the while” (1). Both stories also have no definite ending, leaving the reader free to speculate what happens to the general populous and how they benefit or cope, after the death of the main characters. The plot development of both works is crucial to the reader’s understanding of the message the author wishes to convey, by using unusual techniques, such as beginning in the middle of the a dilemma, ending very near the climax of the story, and leaving a loose ending, the authors successfully keep the reader interested while he completely conveying their point.
Oedipus Rex and The Metamorphosis, both use a technique of concentrating on a single character, and by applying that technique, the author successfully introduces a way in which the reader can easily become emotionally attached to the single character. In The Metamorphosis, a reader can easily feel Gregor’s pain and frustration as slowly his humanity fades, and those who he had sacrificed for abandon him. In Oedipus Rex, a reader shares Oedipus’ great pain and sorrow as he discovers his mother and wife’s suicide and regretfully leaves his daughters and people to allow the plague of his father’s murder to pass. Both stories end tragically for the main characters, but the conditions of the rest of the characters are improved. In The Metamorphosis, the family is now free from the burden of caring for an unproductive bug, and in Oedipus Rex the plague passes and the people of Thebes can produce and thrive. Though both works do not relate directly to current times, the characters can still be easily identified with through their sacrifice. Oedipus and Gregor both selflessly give themselves up for those they loved, and they can be looked at, even today, as a model for care and generosity.
The two works, The Metamorphosis and Oedipus Rex, are significant because they show the root of humanity, and reveal it as selfless sacrifice. Sophocles and Kafka’s intention of making sacrifice the central focus of their works demonstrates their understanding of humanity, and to successfully convey their understanding to readers. Both Oedipus and Gregor Samsa correlate to each other in the way that they could have easily cheated the system, to destroy the evidence at hand, or to eat and survive; however they valiantly stuck by their roles as king and son, and wholly gave themselves up for the good of others. This provides the ultimate model for how a person should live their life, to sacrifice for the sake of others.
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. New York: Dover Publications, 1991. Print.
Kafka, Franz. Metamorphosis and Other Stories. New York: Dover Publications, 1996. Print.
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