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The Sacrifice Of The Oedipus Rex Play

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1641 words Published: 15th May 2017

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Sacrifice, a trait few hold. In The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and Sophocles renowned play, Oedipus Rex, each possess the mutual theme of sacrifice, specially “selfless sacrifice” — the willingness to give to others at the stake of your own well-being. In The Metamorphosis, the protagonist sacrifices for his own family by forfeiting his own life. While in Oedipus Rex, sacrifices were made by the ruler of a kingdom for the sake of his own people. In both texts, an instance of humanity was given through the motif of sacrifice, and through the plot, the protagonists exemplify the reason for necessity of sacrifice to be called on in life.

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Franz Kafka, a culturally influential German author of the early 1900’s, has written a multitude of different works, the most noteworthy being The Metamorphosis. Gregor Samsa, the protagonist in The Metamorphosis, is altered “into an enormous bug” (13) at the start of the book. As the plot thickens, it is evident that Gregor is submissive, dutiful worker, who, in his life, has yet to miss a day of work. In addition, he provides for the necessities of his own family. Gregor willingly forfeits his aspirations and goals for the well-being of his family, despite living in a dead-end, menial life and longing to quit, he bears with his situation and will not abandon his job until his family’s debts are relieved. This, in turn, is what makes Gregor such a human, lovable character, for bugs and animals seek primarily of the survival and well-being of themselves for that of others. However despite, being physically handicapped by his disposition as a bug, he still tends to his family and sister in particular. Sacrifices were continuously made throughout the day by Gregor as a bug in order to hold onto what little humanity that remains. In Kafka’s decision in having Gregor choose to remain with his family the entire span of the story, instead of escaping was to depict Gregor’s own selfless sacrifice and his remaining humanity. On the other hand, on the account of his own free will, Gregor decides to stay inside his room, not making an attempt to flee, through this, he sacrifices a more joyful and free life away from his family, to hold onto the only physical remainders he has left, his own room–ultimately his own humanity. Eventually, Gregor makes his most crucial decision and sacrifices himself: “…he felt relatively… comfortable… he stayed in this state of vacant and peaceful study… his last breath issued… faintly from his nostril” (46), this represents his prevailing humanity. While his demise lifts a heavy load off of his family’s shoulders, it also allowed for them to be liberated from the constraints of such an obstacle, as they are no longer pinned to the apartment due to Gregor’s presence. On the other hand, in Sophocles’ celebrated play, Oedipus Rex: the protagonist of the story, Oedipus, the proclaimed king of Thebes, is prophesied to incur an horrendous fate as a child: “to his own sons he shall be found related as a brother… and of the woman from whose womb he came both… spouse and son; one that raised up seed to his father, and has murdered him” (15). Bearing the fear of such a curse, Oedipus’ biological mother and father attempt to slay their own son, sentencing him to death in hopes of avoiding their own fate. However, the shepherd that was given the heavy task took pity on the child, and instead, gave Oedipus to the royalty of Corinth. As years pass, Oedipus ultimately realizes the prophecy, himself. Bearing the same fear his mother and father had, he banished himself from Corinth and sought a life away from the monarchs in an attempt to protect the well-being of his adoptive father, in addition to his dignity. Still, a twist of plot unfolds on Oedipus’ journey to Thebes, after his departure from Corinth, he stumbles across his biological father, King Laius, who he is not familiar with and ends up slaying him due to a disagreement. In spite of this, in the process, he is found to be the next heir to Thebes’ throne as he solves a sphinx’s riddle and liberates Thebes from its grasp. As a king Oedipus then unknowingly marries his own biological mother-alas carrying out his own demise, his prophecy. The play revolves around Oedipus’ vengeance to eradicate the murderer of the past king of Thebes, his father, who he, without knowledge, murdered himself. Through this, he hopes to end the suffering of his city due to a ravaging plague. As the play progresses, our protagonist discovers the reality of the situation and his actions and acts accordingly-forfeiting his position as king in order to halt the ongoing curse that has been wreaking havoc on Thebes. Sophocles, being the legendary playwright that he is, utilizes the motif of sacrifice throughout the story in order to show how an individual, disregarding their position, is in no situation more important than the welfare of the general public. Oedipus, being the protagonist, does not hesitate to exempt himself from keeping power, no deny the truth; instead he is conscious of his role and position as a leader and cares for his citizens. Through Oedipus’ actions his kingdom is saved, his citizens; safe, his dignity; tarnished, himself, a hero. Both Kafka and Sophocles possess a similar type of reasoning when they decided on the death and sacrifice of their protagonists. The selfless sacrifice of these both deemed heroes made throughout each story signified that there is no force that requires any of these characters to sacrifice themselves, nonetheless they nobly do so.

The design of these stories unfold in a similar fashion. In which the story trails the reader onto a climax, of which the greatest and last sacrifice is taken by the protagonist of each story, however then abruptly finishes without a gradual or defined conclusion. The purpose of the authors writing these works in such a way was to create a last and significant message onto the reader. In both works, sacrifice was also found to be a centerpiece. In The Metamorphosis, Gregor surrenders his life for the welfare of his family, while in Oedipus Rex, Oedipus sacrifices his social status and ultimately life in order to save his kingdom and citizens. Through utilizing sacrifice multiple times as a theme, the authors indicate to the reader to recognize sacrifice is a major focus and motif in the stories. Whereas in the author’s purpose to have their protagonist sacrifice for the well-being of a more significant group of people, was to create their own personal reasoning and perspective on why sacrifice is necessary, which, based on the readings, was to be benefit society. In both literatures, it can be hinted that the beginning and the ending were quite similar in ways. Oedipus Rex and The Metamorphosis both start in the middle of an action, in Oedipus Rex¸ the city of Thebes is consumed in a crisis: “…[the] city teems with incense-smoke, and paean hymns… sounds of woe the while” (2). Meanwhile, in The Metamorphosis¸ Gregor Samsa is, without delay, introduced as a vermin: “…When Gregor Samsa awoke from [his] troubled dreams one morning, he discovered that he had been morphed into… [a] bug” (12). In regards to the ending, both stories left the reader wondering and speculating at the same time. The development of plot is also a significant factor to the reader’s comprehension of the idea the author conveys, through using such unorthodox styles of starting in the middle of a crisis or dilemma, or ending near the climatic point, or building up only to create an undefined ending, the authors were able to successfully keep the reader entertained and interested.

The Metamorphosis and Oedipus Rex both introduce the technique of focusing on a central character and through the employing that technique, the reader is successfully able to become more easily attached emotionally to a single character. In Oedipus Rex, the reader is able to feel Oedipus’ great sorrow and pain as it is revealed that his wife or mother had hanged herself and, in regret, he is required to depart Thebes, abandoning his daughters and his people. Similarly, in The Metamorphosis, one can truly share Gregor’s frustration and pain as his humanity gradually fades. Despite how the conditions of the majority of the people improved in both stories, the story ends as a tragic for the two protagonists. In Oedipus Rex¸ the plague subsides and the citizens of Thebes are unshackled, while in The Metamorphosis, the family is truly unshackled by the lack of the burden of the obstacle of which they knew as Gregor Samsa. Even though both works directly do not correspond to present times, the protagonists are able to still be acknowledged for their selfless sacrifice; both protagonist gave themselves up for the ones they truly cherished and they can be looked at, through even today’s standards, as a vanguard of liberality.

The two reputed works, Oedipus Rex and The Metamorphosis, are noteworthy as they exemplify the bases of humanity, moreover revealing the certain aspect of selfless sacrifice. The two author’s decision in the use of sacrifice as the theme of their works reveals their awareness of humanity and, through great success and greater influence, they truly conveyed that message. Oedipus and Gregor’s unwavering loyalty to the welfare of the general public ultimately provides the model of how one should live in life-for the sake of others.

Work Cited

Kafka, Franz. Metamorphosis. New York: Dover Publications, 1995. Print.

Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. New York: Dover Publications, 1990. Print.


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