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The Character of Oedipus in Oedipus and The Infernal Machine

The Character of Oedipus in Oedipus and The Infernal Machine

The stories of Oedipus, as told through Seneca’s Oedipus and Cocteau’s The Infernal Machine, contain both similarites and differences. Both authors portray the character of Oedipus as being obstinate, ignorant, and inquisitive. Yet Seneca and Cocteau differ on their interpretation of the motives that propelled these characteristics of Oedipus. Seneca portrays Oedipus as a mature man who, in seeing the troubles of the plague that has descended upon Thebes, feels true sorrow for his dying people and wishes to cure his moribund city. On the other hand, Cocteau’s Oedipus is a pretentious, immature, and overweening young adult who seeks to indulge himself in the fast and wealthy lifestyle of the royal class.

Seneca and Cocteau seem to agree that Oedipus is a very persistent, curious, and yet unwitting character. Furthermore, they believe that it these qualities that ultimately bring about his demise. In Seneca’s tale, Tiresias tries to warn Oedipus that only bad will result from his need to know the identity of Laius’s killer-“Avid your hung er for such knowledge now , but you will come to rue the things you know.” (Sen. Oed. p. 22) Even when his horrible actions are discovered by all the other characters, Oedipus, oblivious to the truth, persists with the search. Creon describes the area in which the King Laius was slain, yet Oedipus seems to realize nothing and instead, continu es to demand the identity of Laius’s killer.

Oedipus. . . .Whom did I murder? Through a blunder, a pure blunder, an old man on the road- a stranger.

Tiresias. Oedipus, your blunder killed the husband of Jocasta, King Laius.

Oedipus. The two of you. Now I see the shape of you…

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…presence of his mother at his side. In the end, Oedipus, according to Cocteau, doesn’t even solve the riddle, but instead is told the answer by the Sphinx herself.

Both Seneca and Cocteau regard Oedipus as a stubborn and curious man whose necessity to identify the killer of King Laius, despite warnings from Jocasta, Tiresias, and Creon to leave it be, lead him to his horrible fate. Yet there is a distinct difference between the motives of the authors’ characters. Seneca’s wise and gracious Oedipus persists in his quest to find the killer in order to free Thebes of its pollution. While Cocteau’s puerile and arrogant character must know the identity of the killer, simply for personal knowledge.

Works Cited:

Cocteau, Jean. The Infernal Machine and other plays. New York:New Directions, 1963

Seneca. The Tragedies Volume II. Baltimore:Johns Hopkins, 1995

Comparing Daisy Miller and The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James

Henry James’ Daisy Miller and “The Beast in the Jungle” are

first and foremost powerful tragedies because they employ such

universal themes as crushed ambitions and wasted lives. And the

appeal of each does not lie solely in the darkening plot and atmosphere,

but in those smallest details James gives us. Omit Daisy’s strange little

laughs, delete Marcher’s “[flinging] himself, face down, on [May’s]

tomb,” and what are we left with? Daisy Miller would be a mere

character study against the backdrop of clashing American and Euro-

pean cultures and “The Beast in the Jungle,” a very detailed inner diary

of a completely self-absorbed man who deservingly meets his fate in

the end. It is only when we consider the unfulfilled social ambitions of

Daisy Miller and the hopeless, empty life of John Marcher as tragedies

that we begin to feel for these two works and discover the unmistakable

depths that make them so touchingly, and sometimes disturbingly,

profound. Their tragic conclusions are about the only thing these

stories share, though; there is a stark difference in the way Henry James

approached his narrative and characterization technique to convey most

fully the underlying tragedies. And yet, despite such differences, which

draw mainly from the use of opposing tones of voice in the two stories,

the bleakness of the stories of Daisy and Marcher is unmistakable.

Edith Wharton proposes an interesting theory as to what makes a

tragedy, and it has very much to do with our reading experience. What

we know about the events slowly unfolding before us, or what the

author allows us to know, heavily influences the way we feel about the

story and its characters, …

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…knowing that comes

from reading is sometimes also granted to the characters we are reading

about. Despite the differences in narrative techniques, the two stories

do converge here. It is sad to leave these stories knowing that part of

the blame for the fates of the two main characters must actually be put

on themselves, but even sadder to see that they are not allowed to

remain ignorant forever, to know that they, too, finally realize how they

have become their own worst enemies. And herein lies the essence of

their tragedies: this “illumination” (54), “this horror of waking” (673).

Works Cited

James, Henry. “The Beast in the Jungle.” The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford Books, 1995.

______. Daisy Miller. New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1995.

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