Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is chocked-full of adversity and draws many parallels to the big question: in the face of adversity, what causes some individuals to prevail, while others fail? The tragic nature of the play provides the rich soil of which adversity can grow.
Oedipus, destined for a life of extreme adversity since birth, never really experiences prior to the start of the play. Crowned King of Thebes after saving them from the dreaded Sphinx he is seen as the savior and golden boy of Thebes. He marries and has kids with the beautiful Jokasta. Up until the beginning of the play everything is going right for the newly crowned King Oedipus. The adversity begins when Tiresias, a prophet blessed with the ability of foresight, accuses Oedipus as the cause of the terrible plague infecting Thebes and subsequently as the killer of former King Laios. Oedipus, unable to handle this accusation lashes out and threatens to kill Tiresias. Oedipus’ lack of mental fortitude in the face of an adverse remark causes him to mishandle the situation and ignites the chain events leading up to his demise. Had Oedipus possessed the mental fortitude needed to ignore Tiresias’ unfortunate comment, he may never have discovered his true destiny.
Oedipus’ lack of past adverse experiences and defining moments causes him to catastrophically meltdown when the truth comes to light. When Oedipus finally puts the pieces together, realizing that he has killed his father and bore children with his mother, his life and himself fragment at an alarming rate. His wife/mother commits suicide and he blinds himself, in an act of repentance. Before the play everything came easy to him, never did he face a challenge that really revealed his mettle. The fact that he acted so extreme in the face of adversity reveals the true character of Oedipus. He stared adversity in the face and blinked. This is because Oedipus lacks the essential skills and prior knowledge needed to deal with such adverse situations. Oedipus doesn't know how to work through adversity. He doesn't understand the importance of being able to maneuver through adversity and the glory that waits on the other side. To Oedipus, adversity is an obstacle that cannot be conquered. Oedipus doesn't place any value in adversity because he hasn't been sufficiently acquainted with it. It is this negative outlook and lack of knowledge that causes him to deteriorate.
In the face of adversity, Oedipus fails. His failure can be contributed to his lack of exposure to adversity and lack of mental fortitude. He cannot deal with adversity because he has never interacted with it. How can one expect to know the benefits of adversarial moments without having experienced one themselves? Oedipus had every tangible earthly possession a man could want, riches, a crown, and the love of thousands. However, it was the lack of the intangible that led to his downfall.