The Tension between Interdependence of the Individual and the State in Oedipus Rex

Oedipus Rex vividly dramatizes the tension between individuals and the State and their interdependence as well. As the city of Thebes has been paralyzed by a plague the people expect something from the king to end their suffering. Oedipus as an individual has his own ambitions and aspirations and he needs the position of a king to realize his potentials.


Creon and the blind seer Tiresias are individuals who are in conflict with the king who represents the state. Oedipus wants to find out as an individual and when he knows it, the result is horrifying and he is unseated from the throne. The play is thus a dramatization of the complex tension and interdependence between the state and individuals.

In the very beginning of the play we find a gathering of the people who have come to ask the king to do something to bail themselves out of the suffering and sorrow. Oedipus had saved the people before by answering the riddle of the Sphinx and the people want the king to do something similar to save them from death and suffering that has plagued the city. Oedipus as a king can’t keep quiet when he sees his people’s suffering. His duty as the head of the state requires that he should do something to solve the problem. A king rules the people and it is a part of this duty to ensure their happiness and welfare. The people of Thebes depend upon the king for finding a solution to the crisis that has made them suffer a lot. Oedipus also shows his determination to find out the polluter of the city no matter what the consequences will be. As an individual he possesses great power and potentials and to allow those potentials to come to full fruition, he needs a suitable position which is supplied by the throne.

On the other hand, the tension between the individual and the state is equally worth exploring. Oedipus as a king has certain duties to fulfill and to justify his position, power and nobility as a monarch. His determination to solve the problem of the people is what the Thebans expect from the state. As their king, Oedipus feels it is his duty to take the investigation to its conclusion so that the suffering of his people would come to an end. Ironically, a kings’ commitment to a noble cause destroys him as he ends up finding out who he is as an individual. He wants to know who he is and ends up knowing the horrible truth that he is the incestuous murderer. The truth, he gets is the cause of his tragic downfall. Besides, Creon and Tiresias are individuals in conflict with a person who embodies the authority of the state. Tiresias and Creon are falsely accused of having a role in the murder of the king. Oedipus’s arrogance as power holder manifests itself in his treatment of these two innocent characters. When Oedipus knows that he is the murderer of his father and the husband of his own mother his moral shock knows no bounds. To see the horrible act he himself has committed simply unbearable and he blinds himself in order to avoid seeing the outcome of the heinous crime he has committed. Though controlled by fate beyond his power, his fall from height created a problem for the state. His disintegration is a serious blow to the people and the state.

Thus, through an exploration of the problems of individual lives and their relation to state, the tension has been highlighted. Despite this tension, the interdependence between individuals and state is equally great. It is this issue of tension and interdependence and the irony involved in it that the whole plot of Oedipus Rex revolves around.