Ancient Greek tragedy

Guilt is defined to be a [1]'fact or state of having done something wrong' whether it is remorse felt due to self- inflicted guilt or that inflicted by others over a wrongdoing.

'Oedipus the King', by Sophocles is an ancient Greek tragedy. The play focuses on the tragic life of King Oedipus who is a victim of his irretrievable fate as he is destined to perpetrate reprehensible and ignoble crimes such as incest, by marrying his mother (Queen Jocasta) and murdering his own father (King Laios). Thus, via fate and incest, the theme of guilt is seen to stem out. In contrast, the novella 'The Metamorphosis', by Franz Kafka is a translation of a German story [2]'Die Verwandlung'. The novella depicts the story of Gregor Samsa, a young traveling salesman who mysteriously undergoes an unnatural metamorphosis overnight and transforms [3]'into a monstrous vermin'. The protagonist being the sole breadwinner is consumed by guilt after his metamorphosis due to his inability to support his family. Thus, Gregor's guilt is in line with themes of family relationships and family duty.

In the play 'Oedipus the King' the Greek's popular belief that fate controls a man's life despite man's free will is clearly depicted. As the play progresses, Oedipus's fate is revealed to him and guilt descends upon him as he discovers his true identity; he realizes who he is, what he has done and that all the prophecies prior to his birth have come true. His words in the phrase [4]'LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT never again flood these eyes with your radiance' puts emphasis on his remorse. For example, the word 'never' illustrates t how Oedipus is extremely guilty and thus never wants to commit such an atrocious crime again. Repetition of the block lettered word 'LIGHT' ironically places emphasis on darkness that comes alongside guilt. This also foreshadows Oedipus's act of blinding himself, which simply seems to address that guilt ultimately leads to destruction of body and soul. The same idea is further implemented with the repetition of the word doomed; [5]'doomed, doomed!'

Prior to Oedipus's birth, he was [6]'doomed to sleep with his own mother, doomed to bring children into this world where sun pours down, children no one could bear to see, doomed to murder the man who gave him life, whose blood is his blood. His father.' This prophecy seen to be inevitable gives rise to the theme of incest. Incest regardless whether fated or due to man's free will ultimately destroys a person mentally. In Oedipus's case it destroys him physically as well. For example, the repetitive use of 'I' in [7]' I lived with a woman, she was my mother, I slept in my mother's bed, and I murdered, murdered my father' makes his monologue seem like a check list for his bad deeds. However, despite of the fact that Oedipus performs such incest unwittingly, his deeds are considered to be very shameful that even the Thebans, whom he rescued from the Sphinx, find their own King to be repulsive and wish they were blind to him. This is evident when the chorus states [8]'I wish I had never seen you' and [9]'the darkness of your life floods my eyes.' Thus, receiving such a reaction from his citizens builds up Oedipus's guilt. This illustrates how others inflict guilt onto Oedipus.

A culpable act leads to strong and extreme negative emotions that result in unstable thoughts, uncontrolled actions, which are purely determined by emotions and not reason. This is evident when 'Oedipus came crashing in, he was howling, stalking up and down'. Hence, in hysterical grief, Oedipus self-mutilates himself when he saw Jocasta had hung herself. His deliberate act of self-mutilation happened to be the most shocking act in the play. However, this act takes place off stage as in Greek drama it was prohibited to show violence on stage. Here the fact that guilt is inflicted by others can seen to be stronger as mirror imagery is illustrated; Oedipus's guilt is reflected in Jocasta which leads to her death that can be seen to reflect in Oedipus's blindness. Thus, by this Sophocles shows how punishment relieves Oedipus's guilt and redeems his character.

At the end of the play, Oedipus's guilt has become a part of him. One unknowingly committed culpable act has left an unpleasant mark on him. It highlights the fact that once guilt sets in it is difficult to separate it from one's own identity; [10]'smothering me forever'. The emphasis placed onto the word 'smothering' shows how his guilt suffocates him and suppresses him from moving on as the power of his culpability will destroy him every single time.

Similarly, in 'the Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka, a young man is obligated to work; [11]'That boy has nothing in his mind but the business'. Thus, after his metamorphosis, which is beyond his understanding and control, the responsibilities were unable to be carried out. However, in spite of that fact, Gregor is destroyed by guilt every time his family mentions money or at the thought of the pain he believes he has inadvertently imposed on them. Consequently, due to his inability to support his family results in his self-condemnation that traps Gregor. As a result, his guilt can be said to emerge from the family's burden.

Guilt is Gregor's most powerful emotion throughout the story. Guilt turns out to be deadly as at the end when Gregor's life is the only thing that prevents his family to enjoy theirs. As a result, Gregor dies for his family just as he lived for them: out of guilt.

Gregor is overstrained by guilt. For example, Gregor had many dreams for his family such as sending his sister Grete to the Conservatory to enhance her talent in music. However, he refers to [12]'thoughts like these, completely useless in his present state'. This illustrated how guilt arises from being unable to fulfill his family's dream and from thoughts of uselessness that have the power to destroy every time.

Another example of Gregor's guilt is expressed by his inability to earn money for his family. For example, the thought of his father going to work instead of relaxing and sitting around reading newspapers added to his guilt, as Gregor's previously earned money [13]'was by no means enough to let the family live off interest'. The guilt builds up as he sees his mother who sews to make extra money and Grete who now has less time to study as she has to work in a shop. Thus, suggesting how disturbance to one's status quo gives rise to guilt.

Regardless of having strong relationship with his sister Grete, Gregor feels guilty for accepting her services to get him food without returning or even showing any gratitude. This is evident when Kafka describes [14]'if Gregor had only been able to speak to his sister and thank her for everything she had to do for him, he could have accepted them more easily; as it was, they caused him pain'.

Towards the end, Gregor's guilt can be seen to be reaching its climax. For example, [15]'no one could figure out how Gregor was to be moved' projects how his guilt results from his family's economically handicapped state as he is unable to work. Also, fearing him due to his repulsive appearance which makes him 'hide under the couch' whenever anyone entered and increasing his family cost of rent as they weren't moving as his family members were unable to move Gregor to a smaller house' are reasons which makes him feel extremely guilty.

Finally, in the end when his sister disowns the insect to be Gregor; [16]'It it were Gregor, he would have realized long ago that it isn't possible for humans to live with such a creature, and would have gone away of his own free will'. This makes him realize how his existence is disabling his family to enjoy their lives. As a result, guilt forces Gregor to accept that he is the root cause of all problems and exhaustion from guilt causes him to die alone in order to enable his father, mother and sister to carry on with their lives.

In conclusion, both 'Oedipus the King' and 'The Metamorphosis' show how guilt alone has the power to destroy both physically and mentally. It shows how guilt inflicted by others has a greater impact than that inflicted by self which leads to self-destruction or exhaustion leading to demise.

  1. Definition of guilt is taken from 'Collins Dictionary & Thesaurus'
  2. Learnt from the note on the text by Stanley Corngold
  3. Taken from page 3 of 'The Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka
  4. Taken from page 77 of 'Oedipus the King' by Sophocles
  5. Taken from page 77 of 'Oedipus the King' by Sophocles
  6. Taken from page 59 of 'Oedipus the King' by Sophocles
  7. Taken from page 77 of 'Oedipus the King' by Sophocles
  8. Taken from page 79 of 'Oedipus the King' by Sophocles
  9. Taken from page 79 of 'Oedipus the King' by Sophocles
  10. Taken from page 84 of 'Oedipus the King by Sophocles
  11. Taken from page 10 of 'The Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka
  12. Taken from page 26 of 'The Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka
  13. Taken from page 27 of 'The Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka
  14. Taken from page 28 of 'The Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka
  15. Taken from page 40 of 'The Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka
  16. Taken from page 49 of 'The Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka

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