Hamartia: Oedipus' Tragic Flaw

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According to Aristotle, the tragic hero is impeded by a distinguishable characteristic or character trait which leads to his ultimate demise. This trait is known as hamartia, or the "tragic flaw." This characteristic is said to not only lead to the hero's demise but may also enable the reader to sympathize with the character. So it follows that in Oedipus the King, a Greek tragedy, the tragic hero Oedipus should have some sort of flaw. However, after close examination of the text, no distinguishable "flaw" is revealed. Although Oedipus appears to have many "flaws" on the surface, namely his poor temperament, carelessness, curiosity and pride, close examination of the text reveals that he has many seemingly flawed characteristics that are not only justifiable but in some cases to be expected. One might expect that a quick and even murderous temper would be considered a serious impediment to Oedipus. However, he is quite justified in his rage against Creon and Tiresias, and he has good reasons to suspect them of plotting against him. From the view point of Oedipus, he has just discovered that the antecedent king Laius was savagely murdered along with the members of his entourage. Furthermore the murder has yet to be solved many years later, and the gods have placed a plague on his city until the murderer(s) is apprehended and punished. After learning of the death of Laius, Oedipus concludes that the murderer is "a thief, so daring, so wild, he'd kill a king? [It's] impossible, unless conspirators paid him off in Thebes" (140-142). Creon concurs that this thought had also crossed his mind. So with this evidence, it is easy to see why Oedipus is distrustful of his own peers. Maybe the actual killing of Laius and his four servants is an extreme display of Oedipus' murderous temperament. While it may seem a bit extreme in hindsight, at the time of the incident his actions are totally justifiable. Oedipus describes the incident as thus: as he...
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