Irony is a key aspect of the literary genius observed in both Oedipus the King and Don Quixote. For the former, irony is used to illustrate the futility of man’s actions that attempt to act against the Gods, whereas in the latter, situational irony is used much more often to enhance the reader’s perception of events. This sample essay from Ultius custom writing services explores the use of irony in each tale.
Literary use of irony
Many rhetorical literary devices are used in order to spice up a plot or make it more interesting. For the case of classics like Oedipus the King, irony is used to show the audience that one cannot meddle with the will of the Gods. In Don Quixote, there are also numerous aspects of the story that are reminiscent of irony. For the context of this essay, irony will be defined as a literary tool that portrays characters, events or the plot in such a way that challenges or contradicts the expectations of those characters. Irony is symbolically like an unknown aspect of the story that the audience knows about. Indeed, for the listed works, irony played an important role in not only shaping the
Irony: Understanding the literary term
Irony is symbolically like an unknown aspect of the story that the audience knows about. Indeed, for the listed works, irony played an important role in not only shaping the plotvbut also making sure that the outcomes actually came to fruition. However, a serious question is whether, and to what extent, the outcome of the stories were dependent on the character’s own actions. In using Oedipus the King as the primary reading, it is clear that the actions of the characters exemplified and exacerbated the outcomes, which ended up being heavily ironic.
Oedipus the King
In Sophocles’ Oedipus and the King, the character’s fate is surely ironic because he spent so much time and energy trying to fight the will of the Gods. Despite his arrogance and hubris towards the truth, he persisted in attempting to do what he thought was the right thing. Ultimately, he could not fight the Gods and the oracle at Delphi proved to be triumphant over him:
“In short, the evidence ‘convinces every character in the play—not to mention virtually every reader or viewer since it was first produced—that Oedipus did indeed kill his father and marry his mother.’ Destiny won” (Fosso 27).
Destiny did take its course and the irony was that this was the will of the Gods; a will that Oedipus knew fully of before he even followed through with his plan. Even other characters noted how the will of the Gods could not be challenged.
In speaking with the Chorus, Creon remarked that “…no living man can hope to force the gods to speak against their will” (Sophocles).
Surely, the major truth that everyone knew was that Oedipus’ fate would come to fruition. However, Oedipus was the only character who truly did not buy into it. Consequently, he paid the price.
Fate and free will
Another ironic part of the story is that Oedipus’ own actions make it come true. Because the character was so dead set against having it come true, he actually went through the motions of actualizing it. For instance, in behaving erratically and taking things out of proportion with his eagerness to find the guilt party, Oedipus set forth a tone radical behavior that would carry throughout the entire story, no matter what the outcome.
As Fosso remarked, “[Oedipus] assemble[d] his self-convicting narrative from a patchwork of prophecies, rumors, testimony, and interpretation” (Fosso 50).
Ultimately, ancient Greek literature tells us Oedipus went through the cognitive process of piecing together the story and interpreting it in such a way that he believed he was doing the right thing. Such actions are the epitome of irony because as audience members, we all know that Oedipus’ actions were the actual cause of the outcome as much as the oracle’s vision was. Because Oedipus went through so much trouble and dedicated so much effort to guiding his fate, he was surely responsible.
Oedipus fight against fate
Another critical aspect of Oedipus’ fate was that he fought so hard against it. From the onset, he knew that he was faced with a challenge, except that he did not know what kind of challenge it was. For example, in speaking with the Chorus and arguing with them, Oedipus exclaimed:
“Speak before all; the burden that I bear Is more for these my subjects than myself” (Sophocles).
In making such a statement, he wanted to badly to find out the truth and move forward that he had no idea that he was only antagonizing his own fate.
Oedipus’ argument is “it is equally inconceivable that any people would allow their kind to be murdered and not try to find the guilty party” (Searle 327).
That is, the character is hung up on finding out who is guilty and then bringing them to justice. In doing so, Oedipus is once again only contributing to his own dismal fate.
Indeed, Searle lamented that “by the end of the play, it appears that he has cursed himself to a life of misery and exile” (Searle 326).
Such an expression is significant because it places more blame on Oedipus rather than his pre-determined fate.
Oedipus’ fate dictated own actions
Because Oedipus acted without rationality and with vigor, his own fate was heavily based on his actions. The reality of the story was that the truth was not going to help Oedipus; in fact, it would be his downfall. However, Oedipus ultimately had a choice when it came to how hard he wanted to pursue the truth. Indeed, not only did Oedipus choose to pursue the truth with such vigor that he made many nightmares a reality, but he also ignored the advice and input of others.
For instance, Oedipus had multiple talks with Creon and Teiresias regarding the situation; however, those conversations only ended in anger and blame on behalf of the King. The irony of the story was therefore exacerbated by Oedipus and his affinity for doing what he thought was right. Oracle or not, Oedipus sped up the process and actualized his own demise.
Don Quixote and ironic valor
Like Oedipus, the story of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza also had similarities with respect to the use of irony. Mainly, for Don Quixote, the character took the words from his books and believed in them very literally. He accepted his book’s notions of chivalry and valor to the point where he actually attempted to pursue it on his own. While being humorously portrayed as a coward, Horace Hodges in Holy Moley: Don Quijote’s Significant Senal remarked that the character was ironically presented as a strong man in some senses.
For instance, one example of this is shown where Quixote is showing his back and there is a black mole. Sancho Panza remarked that this was “the mark of a strong man” (Hodges 174). This mole was used as a comparison to the Islamic prophet Mohammed and was indicative of his own strength as a knight. However, the latter portions of the story would clearly indicate that Quixote was not as strong, powerful and brave as his mole may have given him credit to be. Again, the notion of firmly believing in something that the whole audience knows is not true is the case. Like Oedipus the King, Don Quixote is partly to blame for the outcome of his own story.
Oedipus’ connection to Don Quixote
Clearly, there are some sharp similarities between literary irony in Don Quixote and Oedipus in terms of how they ironically had perceptions of the world. While Oedipus was clearly in his own world in terms of believing that the Gods’ will did not apply to him, Quixote tired himself out from his reading until he was not normal anymore.
In remarking that “finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind,” the author was indicating that Quixote had lost his senses and believed that he was someone else (Quixote).
This was similar to how Oedipus believed that he was the rightful King and not wrong. Another major similarity between the two characters is how the story ended in pain and suffering for both men. For Oedipus, it was his self-destructive behavior that led him to even question the prophet Teiresias:
“What then, thou knowest, and yet willst not speak! Wouldst thou betray us and destroy the State?” (Sophocles).
Despite being given numerous warnings about his actions, the protagonist persisted in believing that he was right until he found out the truth. Similarly, Don Quixote’s journey would take him through countless moments of misery:
“Just as his mental Slate appears as a checkerboard of lucidity and insanity, so is his bodily condition a crazy quilt of vigor, fatigue, endurance, and twinges of hopeless pain” (Quixote).
These examples clearly indicate that there was a serious relationship between the two stories in terms of how the main characters’ fates would be ironic.
Finding similarities among the differences
While the core difference between the two stories was related to the way in which the characters dealt with their pain, they surely shared similarities in how they helped their fate move along faster. Clearly, both characters took a proactive approach in shaping their destinies because they either thought that was what they wanted to they had no idea what they were getting into.
Nonetheless, the fate of Oedipus showed that the more he pursued the issue, the closer he reached his miserable fate. These cases represented irony because only they had wrong information, or refused to accept it. The rest of the audience knew the reality of the situation and thus could realize the error in the characters’ behavior.
Themes of irony and prophecy in Oedipus and Don Quixote
As we have seen, both Oedipus and Don Quixote experienced a journey that proved to be extremely ironic in hindsight. However, it was also the actions of the characters that helped shape their fate. For Oedipus, he attempted to fight the will of the Gods, despite the fact that the Oracle at Delphi made his future very clear to him and those around him. Nevertheless, he resisted and sought to make his own destiny. Also, Oedipus’ own interpretations, actions, and thoughts helped actualize his prophecy.
The chorus, other characters, and even Jocasta all gave him evidence and tried to explain to him that his course of action was not correct. In trying to bring the supposed killer of his father to justice, he was only inching himself closer to his fate. This drew many similarities to Don Quixote, who also suffered at the hands of irony. Quixote tried to actualize his own dream of being a courageous knight. In doing so, he built his life around suffering, being cold and miserable. Surely, this draws a relationship to Oedipus in the sense that he helped actualize his destiny. Consequently, irony was a very important facet of both stories.
Fosso, Kurt. “Oedipus Crux: Reasonable Doubt in Oedipus the King.” College Literature Summer (2012): 26-60. Print.
Hodges, Horace. “Holy Moley: Don Quijote’s Significant SeÃ±al.” Cervantes 29.2 (2009): 173-183. Print.
Saavedra, Miguel de, and Edith Grossman. Don Quixote. New York: Ecco, 2003. Print.
Searle, Leroy. “The Conscience of the King: Oedipus, Hamlet, and the Problem of Reading.” Comparative Literature 49.4 (1997): 316-343. Print.
Sophocles. “Sophocles Plays.” Project Gutenberg – free ebooks. N.p., 19 Nov. 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2012. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/31/31-h/31-h.htm#king.