2004 Open Prompt

2004 Open Prompt Response


Critic Roland Barthes has said, “Literature is the question minus the answer.” Choose a novel, or play, and, considering Barthes’ observation, write an essay in which you analyze a 0central[sic] question the work raises and the extent to which it offers answers. Explain how the author’s treatment of this question affects your understanding of the work as a whole. Avoid mere plot summary.


      Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot  is filled with unanswered questions. The two protagonists go through the entire play without finding any answers at all. The essential, and many times echoed in the play, question, for the two of them is: Why are they here? The pair of characters, alone in a barren wasteland, come up with endless reasons to avoid answering this very question, or at least to avoid coming to a reckoning with the fact that there is no easy answer. Beckett uses the absurdity of the characters’ actions to avoid answering the question to make the audience question whether their own actions are just as warped.

      Vladimir and Estragon are interdependent. They need each other, so that they can take each other up in conversation, and pretend that something is happening, even when absolutely nothing is happening. In the beginning of the play, the fact that they are doing this is hardly noticeable; when the two of them are bickering, it seems as though it is natural, with the characters saying things simply to pass the time. However, as the play progresses, their bickering gets increasingly repetitive, and the pair’s ignorance of this fact makes it more and more clear that the bickering is gaining them absolutely nothing; they never learn anything, as shown when Estragon asks “why can’t we leave” seven times over the course of the play, only for Vladimir to respond “We can’t – we’re waiting for Godot” every time. The conversation they make is only so that they can pretend, to themselves, that they are moving towards a different future. Despite Vladimir and Estragon’s best efforts, at times their conversation peters out. When this happens, they begin to question their purpose. This makes them become agitated, and on two occasions, makes them contemplate hanging themselves, ironically, from the tree, the only sign of life on the landscape.

       Pozzo, when he is introduced, becomes the play’s antagonist. He disrupts the circular nature of Vladimir and Estragon’s comfortable world. He is going somewhere, and doing something. Pozzo is the opposite of Vladimir and Estragon. He thinks he knows why he is here. Alone out of the characters, he possesses a watch, a “schedule” and a sense of time. Vladimir and Estragon are uncomfortable with this, and avoid talking with Pozzo, instead preferring to talk with Lucky. Despite Pozzo’s apparent control of his life, he is struck down, a punish that can only be contributed to the divine. Pozzo goes blind, and becomes completely helpless. While still travelling, he has no idea where he is going, and eventually has to be lead by Lucky, an ironic twist of fate. Pozzo’s fate suggests what happens to those who go looking for answers about their existence, and to those who attempt to go somewhere and give their lives real meaning.

      Lucky is Pozzo’s counterpart. While Pozzo makes decisions, Lucky merely follows them. Pozzo is aggressive, and Lucky is passive. Lucky does not think at all – he can only follow directions, even if the directions are menial and pointless. When he is ordered to “think”, he can only spew out nonsensical words, indicating that he possesses speech but not thought. His name, therefore, seems like a misnomer – ironic. However, Lucky does the best at dealing with reality throughout the play. Though he is in arguably the worst situation, he copes. Vladimir and Estragon contemplate suicide repeatedly after thinking about their purpose on Earth, and Pozzo, after symbolically ‘losing his way’ does the same. Lucky has no such thoughts about the nature of his existence, and indeed has very few thoughts of any kind. Beckett uses Lucky’s name to imply that those without the ability to think about the nature of their existence – in short, why they are here – are the luckiest of people, because they will never realize how horrible the barren existence in the play is.

      Samuel Beckett’s characters in Waiting for Godot include a wide range of personalities, and he uses their reactions to suggest the importance of the question “why are we here?” The characters in the play all come to the conclusion, in one way or another, that it is better to not even contemplate the question, and Beckett uses this to imply a greater significance to the question, in the world outside of the play.


Critique of Examples – 2004 Open Prompt

Sample 3N

This essay provides a persuasive and accurate analysis of Candide. The thesis of both the essay and the work is well established, claiming that “Candide sets out to prove that this is the best of all possible worlds”, and “Candide emphasizes the age-old lesson that for the best of all worlds to exist, all people must love each other.” respectively. These two themes flow readily into each other, supported heavily by insights from the text., such as the detailed analysis of Candide’s quote ‘we must tend our garden’. However, the language is somewhat repetitive, and oftentimes a possible theme is opened up and subsequently ignored, such as the idea that “Candide can not comprehend why God would make an imperfect world”. Nonetheless, the essay makes a compelling and easy-to-follow argument, with abundant support from the main text. The central question is directly addressed by the argument, and it is clear that the author understands how the book relates to the question.

Sample 3J

While the essay provides ample examples from the text to support a variety of points, it is never quite clear what argument they are trying to make. Though it is stated several times that the question is “the nature of freedom”, that Huck and Jim never find the answer, and that “Twain’s treatment of the nature of freedom makes his novel truly a novel of the U.S”, there is little to no discussion of why the absence of an answer is significant. In contrast to the above essay, this essay focuses almost entirely on the question, and barely discusses the significance of the lack of an answer. However, it does include some good analysis of the nature of Huck and Jim’s journey, stating “their adventures on and off the raft explore the nature of the chains that bind them”, the essay is ultimately limited by the absence of analysis on the central question.

Sample 3U

The essay raises promising ideas, but most if not all of them develop into dead ends. The prompt is never satisfactorily answered, although there is enough material to do so. The answer to the purported question “does anything ever remain the same?” is never raised, and, similarly, the significance of Okonkwo’s character change is not discussed. Instead, the essay is filled with repetitive and oftentimes difficult to understand language, including the distracting use of “+” instead of “and” and basic grammar mistakes, such as in “Achebe’s use of cultural changes + development makes the work apprehendable to realize that things do change and never stay the same.”. In addition, the final paragraph implies that the question is answered, and that the reader is lead to the conclusion of the main question. This lies at odds with the prompt, and suggests that the student does not fully understand their chosen work. Nonetheless, there are some pertinent ideas, that if explored to a conclusion, could make the essay successful.

Summary and Analysis – Hamlet



William Shakespeare. This was Shakespeare’s eighth tragedy, and is the most widely performed today.


The play is set in the royal palace in Denmark, around the sixteenth century. Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet, has just died, supposedly bitten by a rattlesnake. King Hamlet’s brother, Claudius, has inherited the throne, and Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and King Hamlet’s widow, is now the queen, having married Claudius almost immediately after his death. In the nearby Norway, King Fortinbras has recently died, slain in battle by the late King Hamlet, and his invalid brother has taken the throne.

(Major) Characters:

Royal Family

Hamlet: The crown prince of Denmark, Hamlet appears to go insane after his father’s ghost appears to him. He runs amok, judging others for apparent sins without regard for the consequences, and is at least partially responsible for six deaths. His superior attitude, his presumption, and several other factors, seem to display him as a christ figure who thought too highly of himself. He dies poisoned by one he considered a friend.

Gertrude: The Queen of Denmark, Gertrude marries Claudius soon after her late husband’s death. The circumstances are suspicious, to say the least, but both Hamlet and his father seem to forgive her. Interestingly, she is the character whose death is least linked to Hamlet’s involvement – indeed, it is the death that seems the most voluntary, and the only one that occurs by choice. However, it is caused by her husband.

Claudius: The King of Denmark, Claudius is the ‘snake’ in the Garden of Eden interpretation of the death of King Hamlet. He shows remorse at some points in the play, especially during the ‘play within a play’ and the ‘praying scene’, but is intelligent enough to recognize that such remorse will ultimately ring hollow, as long as he keeps his ill-gotten spoils. He dies due to his own plot, after killing his wife, the one thing he seemed to love.

Ghost of King Hamlet: The most mysterious character, the Ghost of King Hamlet is the catalyst for all the action in the play. The actions of the ghost ironically destroy all that the king stood for in life, leading to the deaths of his son, widow, brother, and friend, and allowing Norway to conquer Denmark.

Friends and Advisors:

Laertes: Hamlet’s friend and the son of Polonius. Laertes is initially good-natured and protective but hot-blooded. His close relationship with Ophelia conflicts with Hamlet’s, and this makes Ophelia’s death still more important. He dies by his own poison.

Ophelia: Hamlet’s love interest. She goes mad after her father dies. Her father’s controlling attitude suggests that the death may have been so impactful because she doesn’t know what to do without someone telling her what to do. Her death is a result of her madness.

Polonius:The father of Ophelia and Laertes, and an advisor to the King. He seems an old fool, but does give good advice to his children, being very protective, perhaps a bit nosy. This nosiness transfers itself into other places, as well. He spies on Hamlet while using his daughter as bait, then does the same with Gertrude. This brings about his death.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: These are childhood friends of Hamlet. Initially received genially, they are eventually viewed with contempt by Hamlet, much like Polonius. Their sacrifice is poetic – they die because of their orders. Their dim intelligence, and the unawareness of their death, echoes the classic “lamb to be slaughtered”.


Fortinbras: Prince of Norway, with many similarities to Hamlet.


Act One:

Scene One:

Outside of the castle, Barnardo and Francisco, two sentinels, are standing watch. The play opens, suggestively, with the statement “Who’s there?”, a question from Barnardo to Francisco. Francisco leaves, and Marcellus and Horatio join Barnardo in the watch. Horatio asks why he is there; it is revealed that Marcellus and Barnardo have seen a ghost their previous two watches. Horatio is initially unbelieving, so Marcellus begins explaining the circumstances of these occurances; he is interrupted by the ghost of King Hamlet, appearing in full armor. A cock crows. It says nothing; Horatio, attempting to make it speak, orders Marcellus to attack it. It stalks away, offended. Horatio and Marcellus resolve to tell Hamlet about the incident.

Scene Two:

The scene opens with a speech by Claudius, who thanks his courtiers for their support. In the speech, he explains why his marriage to Gertrude so closely followed King Hamlet’s death, and orders Voltemand and Cornelius to communicate with Fortinbras. Laertes asks for leave to return to France, it is granted. Hamlet is still bitter about Gertrude’s remarriage, and is curt Claudius. His request to return to school is denied by Claudius. After a soliloquy about his mother’s short memory, Horatio and Marcellus enter and tell Hamlet about what they saw. Hamlet knows something is wrong, stating “all is not well”.

Scene Three:

Ophelia is seeing her brother Laertes off back to school in France. As he is leaving, Laertes warns his sister that she would do well to be cautious of Hamlet’s advances. Ophelia agrees, and states that she will obey, but also states “show me not the steep and thorny way to heaven, while you ignore the same”. Laertes compares Ophelia to a violet. Polonius enters and echoes Laertes, adding some extra advice for Ophelia, and some for Laertes as well. Ophelia is more submissive. Polonius seems less the fool and more a good parent here.

Scene Four, Five:

Horatio, Hamlet, and Marcellus stand watch, waiting for the ghost. It appears, and Hamlet is awestruck. He is so enamored that he cannot be stopped from following it, disregarding Horatio and Marcellus’s cautions. “My fate cries out”. Horatio and Marcellus follow him. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. The ghost tells Hamlet the “truth” about ‘his’ death – Claudius poisoned  him in the ear, while he was sleeping. He condemns Claudius, and Hamlet rashly swears to do anything to stop Claudius. He forcibly swears Marcellus and Horatio to secrecy.

Act Two:

Scene One:

Polonius sends Reynaldo to investigate his son’s actions, going so far as to suggest that Reynaldo slander Laertes. This is the first of the rather strange examples of surveillance in the play. Reynaldo exits, and Ophelia enters, claiming that Hamlet entered her room and near-attacked her. Polonius declares that Hamlet must be mad with love for Ophelia. This is the first mention of Hamlet’s insanity.

Scene Two:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern make their entry. They have come because the King and Queen sent for them. The King and Queen order them to spy on Hamlet, to see what he is doing, and to look for a cure for Hamlet’s apparent madness. Voltemand and Cornelius report that Fortinbras has relented. Polonius declares that he has found the reason for Hamlet’s madness – it is caused by Ophelia. The Royal couple and Polonius devise a plan to observe Hamlet’s madness in action. They are to wait behind a tapestry, and use Ophelia as bait. Polonius engages Hamlet, and is inconspicuously mocked. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter – they are initially recieved genially, but Hamlet is suspicious of their intentions. Hamlet states “Denmark’s a prison”, an apt statement considering the amount of surveillance he is under. Players enter, and they and Hamlet enact one of his favourite scenes, the death of Priam. This, too, is never concluded. Hamlet arranges for them to play The Murder of Gonzago. He reflects, in a soliloquy, upon his inaction on killing Claudius. He respects the power of the player to move himself so artfully.

Act Three:

Scene One:

Polonius and Claudius set the aforementioned trap for Hamlet. While describing the nature of the deception to Ophelia, Claudius feels a pang of conscience, a first for him. Hamlet enters, and gives his famous “to be, or not to be” speech. Interestingly, he is unaware of an audience. Ophelia attempts to return Hamlet’s communications to him, and Hamlet denies recognition. Instead, he acts superior to Ophelia, telling her to get to a nunnery, instead of “breeding sinners”. Ophelia is distraught, and declares Hamlet utterly mad. Claudius is disillusioned with Polonius’s interpretation of Hamlet’s insanity, and resolves to send Hamlet away.

Scene Two:

People prepare for the play; Hamlet tells Horatio of his plan to get Claudius to show remorse. The plan works spectacularly; Claudius’s nerve is broken, though the Queen appears little fazed. Claudius retreats to his rooms, Interrupting the play within the play. Hamlet is triumphant, although little has actually been done; this is an anticlimax. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter; Hamlet confronts them about their activities. They admit to lying to him, there is an anecdote with a recorder, in which the Rosencrantz protests playing the recorder, offered to him by Hamlet to illustrate their attempts to manipulate him. Hamlet prepares to kill Claudius (finally).

Scene Three:

The King, nervous about Hamlet’s madness, and worried that Hamlet will turn on him, prepares to send Hamlet to England, along with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. King Claudius tries to pray, but finds that he cannot, because he feels that repentance cannot be reached while he retains his ill-gotten gains.Hamlet sneaks up behind Claudius, and has a chance to kill him. However, he refrains, presuming to control whether Claudius goes to heaven or to hell. He leaves, resolving to kill Claudius later.

Scene Four:

Hamlet confronts Gertrude about her role in assisting the King, suggesting that she is betraying her husband. Gertrude, frightened, cries out for help – Polonius, hiding behind a tapestry, comes out to help. Hamlet, ‘mistaking’ him for Claudius, kills him. Gertrude is still more frightened, but is forced to listen to Hamlet recount her perceived sins. Distraught, she is weeping when the ghost of Hamlet comes in and warns Hamlet to be gentle. At this point, she is certain that Hamlet is mad. Nonetheless (or perhaps because of this), she swears to help undermine the King.

Act Four:

Things escalate – Hamlet is sent to England. Along the way, he slays Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, condemning them, ironically, for following their orders. Meanwhile, in Denmark, Ophelia goes mad, stating that “the violets all withered when my father died; e.g. she lost her innocence when her father died. Laertes is infuriated, he swears to kill Hamlet, indeed, to “cut his throat in the church”. Ophelia dies, an apparent suicide.

ACT Five:

Hamlet returns from England, miraculously appearing after some time away. He looks at a skull, and ponders the meaning of death.  Ironically, the skull may or may not be who the digger claims it is. Hamlet and Laertes fight over Ophelia’s dead body, a suggestive scene. Hamlet is invited to a duel, and he accepts. At the duel, he kills Laertes with his own poisoned sword, and kills Claudius with his own cup. Gertrude dies of the same cup as Claudius, again suggestively. Hamlet dies of a friend’s poison. Fortinbras takes over Denmark. Horatio is the only surviving main character.



Garden of Eden

Hamlet as a Christ figure



Response to Course Material – 2/26/2018

We’ve covered a lot of ground since the last response to course material blog. The bulk of the time was spent, of course, on reading, discussing, and eventually writing about Oedipus Rex and Hamlet. However, we also worked on several projects, and of course, our blog posts.

Our blog posts, while incorporating many of the elements from previous closed prompts, shifted to a more open-ended perspective. Answering question three of the exam allowed a greater degree of freedom than questions one and two, but it’s difficulty is inversely proportional to the number of works of literature that you have read and understand. For this reason, I’m glad that we did these blogs last, after we read several works of literature. However, I think that these essays are the most useful way to explore a concept and present your ideas about it, and I look forward to doing more like it.

I similarly enjoyed our reading of Oedipus Rex. The quintessential tragedy of Oedipus raised many questions that we didn’t get a chance to discuss in other works of literature, and its adaptable plot can answer many of the questions on the AP exam. Especially interesting was the theme of fate versus free will, but other themes such as guilt, sight, and the value of truth made for interesting discussion topics as well. As always, I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer variety of things that we could talk about in this play, and the discussions often went onto debatable, but not as important, tangents. This is not to say I didn’t like the discussions, but I do think we could have been more productive. I again found the summary and analysis blog for Oedipus Rex to be the most helpful part of the analytical process, because it allowed me to structure and organize my ideas in a way that was not possible during our discussions.

Hamlet was an unusual read, distinguished from other Shakespearean plays not only in its length, but also by the large number of subplots and smaller themes that occur throughout the novel. While the play itself is undoubtedly adaptable to any number of AP closed prompts, I feel like getting to the bottom of what the play says about any of its characters, let alone the overall meaning of the play itself, will be next to impossible. I think that the film adaptation of the play that we watched in class was very helpful in this regard – the portrayal of the characters puts an idea of how people view the characters (Polonius is a caricature of an old fool, Gertrude hides a sinful interior under an outer veneer, etc.)- but it does have the downside of discouraging ideas that run contrary to the movie. However, our upcoming reading of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead may provide further insight into the play.

Last, we had three projects, all of which involved presenting ideas and interpretations of a work of literature to the class. The first was the final exam project. While very different from our usual projects, everyone in the class had fun making their project, and, while reading and watching the presentations, I learned more about what other people thought of the characters in the plays. The second was our read and lead poetry presentations. This was something I found to be extremely useful and directed. We both got to look deeply into a poem, with the benefit of time, by ourselves, and to have other people do it for us. Both were extremely helpful to my poetry analysis skills. The third and last project we did was multiple choice question practice. I didn’t think this was as helpful for the multiple choice section as a practice examination would be, since the questions lacked some polish and difficulty, but they were helpful for analyzing sections of Hamlet deeper.

All of these activities were helpful, in one way or another, in preparing for the AP exam, and I always felt like I was improving in analytical skill. Both Oedipus and Hamlet were very helpful reads, and I found that I enjoyed both of them as well.

1976 Open Prompt Response

The conflict created when the will of an individual opposes the will of the majority is the recurring theme of many novels, plays, and essays. Select the work of an essayist who is in opposition to his or her society; or from a work of recognized literary merit, select a fictional character who is in opposition to his or her society. In a critical essay, analyze the conflict and discuss the moral and ethical implications for both the individual and the society. Do not summarize the plot or action of the work you choose.


In 1984, the fate of the narrator and everyman, Wilson, symbolizes the final end to opposition to the Party. His successful conversion to, and adoption of, Party approved practices and thoughts show the malleability of the citizens of Oceania and the world, and his betrayal of Julia indicates that civilization, from the point of the novel onwards, is without hope and doomed to decline. There are very few ethical implications; indeed, most of the people in the novel show a complete lack of empathy for others, except for Winston and Julia.

The adaptation of humans to their new environment is a theme in the novel. Syme, a close friend of Winston, is outspoken about his work, which consists of modifying the official language, and therefore the thoughts, that citizens of Oceania are allowed to express, declaring “in the end, the notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words – in reality, only one word.”. Winston predicts, correctly, that due to Syme’s outspoken nature, he will be ‘vaporized’. Ampleforth, a poet and associate of Winston’s, is imprisoned for including the word ‘God’ in a poem. Their removal leaves only those who support the party, or those who are faking it. The former group, in order to sustain their support of the often contradictory and nonsensical reports of the party, use doublethink, a technique that literally requires one to “accept two contrary definitions at the same time, without recognizing any contradictions.” The widespread use of doublethink is revealed to Winston, when, listening to a propaganda broadcast, he hears that chocolate rations have recently been increased, when, in fact, he knows that they were reported just two days ago to have decreased. The refusal to acknowledge even blatant discrepancies shows how people have adapted to the Party’s oppressive control of their lives. Throughout much of the novel, Winston, who opposes the party at heart, is symbolic of the latter group of people, not engaging in open rebellion, but acknowledging that what he is doing is contradictory, deceptive, and morally wrong.

Even after Winston’s capture, where he is forced to endure horrifying tortures and confess to crimes that he never committed, he remains convinced that The Party will not be able to stop him from loving Julia, his lover. Confronted with his worst fear, hungry rats, Winston symbolically betrays Julia, saying “Not me! Do it to her. Do it to Julia.”. Here, Winston, the symbol of all that is good in the novel, and the last symbol of resistance, shows that he is not infallible, and prey to the same forces that have allowed The Party to manipulate the population of Oceania. His betrayal of Julia shows that he, and others like him, are only human, and faced with the machine-like, callous, efficiency of The Party, you must give in or be destroyed. The complete elimination of people like Syme and Ampleforth from the present and history shows that, to The Party, it makes little difference whether you choose to die or to adapt – either way, the voices of dissent are removed. Winston’s conversion was an indulgence, as opposed to a necessity – while it was mentioned that it would be more convenient for him to be killed, O’Brien wanted to change him, perhaps to prove that nobody’s ideals were stronger than the Party

George Orwell uses the struggle of the narrator to symbolize the frailty of the humans when confronted with a more powerful and mechanical authority. The symbolic conversion of Wilson from a rebel to a staunch supporter, and the renouncement of his lover in the final scene, saying that “things will never be the same between us.”, suggests that humanity, in the novel, has reached a point of no return, and that the future consists of humans, as well as the government, becoming more and more mechanized, without any hope of reversal. Infinitely prolonged conflicts, as well as inconsequential policy changes, contribute to the idea of a indefinite span of bleakness and existence. Moral and ethical conflicts would become a thing of the past, as The Party would eliminate all those who would raise them.  Orwell’s 1949 release of the book, at the height of the Red Scare, would have also been written to respond to the socialist movement in the powers of the world, and the drudging, endless, useless, perspective of the recently concluded war would likewise have been written to address the ethical concerns of those who had just finished fighting it.

Critique question 3

Example 3A

In this example, the author focuses heavily on the plot of one play. Though the analysis that the author provides is somewhat weak, they make up for it by providing abundant examples that are taken from a play extremely well suited for the question, that highlights and builds off of the original question. The opening sentences “The use of a symbol has the ability to deliver a potential message. Used in a work of literature, it has the ability to profoundly affect and alter the mindset of the audience” is weak and far too broad, as is the thesis “In his play, The Wild Duck, author Henrick Ibsen uses an overarching symbol of a wild duck in order to highlight the events and developments of characters throughout”, but the analysis improves as the essay progresses. Later analysis is directed, accurate, and relevant, showing how Ibsen “uses the duck as a symbol to guide the play, revealing several of the characters’ deepest emotions.” The plot detail, while a bit excessive, contributes to the meaning of the play.

Example 3B:

The author brings up many valid points in their analysis of A Streetcar Named Desire. However, these are marred by a shortage of analysis and confusing sentence structures. Many interesting points are raised in the introduction, such as “Blanche’s obsession with youth”, and her need to “make everything in life appear better than it is”. While valid, they lack the explanation necessary for the reader to connect them fully to the final paragraph of analysis. Blanche’s obsession with youth is never raised again, and her need to improve upon the appearance of life, while touched upon, is not adequately explained. The author states that Blanche uses the lampshade to “cover the flaws in life”, yet it seems that the lampshade would only dim everything, flaws and strengths alike. Very likely this is an intentional move by Williams, but it remains unexplored. The structure of the sentences is very often flawed and occasionally confusing – sentences like “Making everything fairy-tale like and better than it is is her coping with the fact that because she exposed the truth of her husband she lost him” are distracting and detract from the analysis provided by the essay. On the whole, however, the essay does a good job of explaining the meaning and significance of the lampshade, and I think it does a good job of answering the prompt, although either expanding on or deleting the current dead ends, as well as proofreading the essay, would make it seem a lot more polished.


Example 3C:

The given example of analysis of Things Fall Apart places far too much weight on the machete, while spending too little time on how it impacts the meaning of the novel and the protagonist’s development (or lack thereof). It is stated several times that the machete stands for “power, pride, strength, and significance”, but this is never backed by evidence from the book – while it is stated that he used it for defense purposes, why this would lead it to symbolize strength, pride, or power is never explained. Bold statements like “Okonkwo had enemies, he had war, he had lots of fight in him, he wasn’t living in a peaceful world”, and “with the machete, Okonkwo could care for himself” are not supported by the text, though a simple anecdote or example would make them much more effective. Further complicating the matter is the brief mention of Okonkwo’s suicide. The event stands in sharp contrast to the themes that are discussed in the essay, and though it states that he did not have his machete with him, the suicide suggests that there was some inner conflict that the machete was helping to regulate. Including this would have made the essay more interesting and less bland than it is. Cutting down on the repetition would have made the essay feel more effective.

Oedipus Summary and Analysis


Sophocles, a greek playwright who introduced the third character into Greek tragedy.


Oedipus, the King of Thebes, is married to Jocasta, the Queen. Creon is Jocasta’s brother, and shares power with Oedipus and Jocasta.Tiresias is a legendary seer. The priest of Zeus is an elder of the town, who acts as a mouthpiece to Oedipus. Minor characters include: two messengers and a shepherd. Characters that are mentioned but do not speak include Laius, the previous King of Thebes, and the Oracle of Delphi, a mouthpiece of Apollo.  


The play opens with the Priest of Zeus addressing Oedipus about the problems that the city of Thebes is facing. Not long after Oedipus became king, the city began to face plagues that killed crops, livestock and pregnant mothers. Oedipus has sent Creon, his brother in law, to the Oracle at Delphi to seek advice from the gods. Creon comes back, with news that there are cures for the plagues. The oracle revealed that the plagues are a result of the Thebans harboring Laius’s killer. Rashly, Oedipus declares that he will take immediate action to find the man, and kill or exile him. Oedipus looks to Teiresias, a famous seer, for assistance in finding the killer. Teiresias says nothing, incurring the wrath of Oedipus. Oedipus goads Teiresias, calling him a traitor and a monster, and eventually accusing him of having planned the assassination. Angered, Teiresias speaks in anger, and accuses Oedipus of being the murderer of Laius. Further, he goes on to accuse Teiresias of marrying into his closest family. Confused and enraged, Oedipus accuses Teiresias of being in the employ of Creon, speaking so as to discredit and dethrone Oedipus. Now further angered, Teiresias prophesies that Oedipus will be blind and exiled before the day is over. He declares the murderer is a native born Theban, posing as a foreigner in the land.

Creon enters, protesting Oedipus’ accusations, yet Oedipus does not take them back. They argue, coming to no reconciliation until Jocasta enters, stopping their argument. Jocasta and the chorus of Thebans persuade Oedipus to stop his attacks on Creon. Reluctantly, Oedipus agrees. Creon leaves, and Oedipus explains to Jocasta Teiresias’ accusations. Jocasta asserts that Teiresias is a bad prophet, citing an earlier prophecy. Teiresias had prophesied that Laius’s son would kill him and marry Laius’s wife, and to prevent this, they sent the child to be placed on a barren hillside. Jocasta has had no trouble since, and she states that Laius was killed, at a place where three roads meet, by highwaymen, not his son. This stirs a memory in Oedipus. Shaken, he asks for more information about Laius’s death, and sends for a servant, who was present at Laius’s death.

In a state of distress, Oedipus informs Jocasta about his childhood. He was raised by Polybus and Merope of Corinth, but went to the Oracle of Delphi after a stranger cast doubt on his parentage. There, he was told he would kill his father and marry his mother. Consequently, he headed away from Corinth, turning at the meeting of the three roads. However, as he reached the crossroads, he ran into a nobleman and his entourage. Attacked by the nobleman, he fought and killed all in the procession. Oedipus begins to fear that this was Laius himself.

Not long after, a messenger comes, bearing news of Polybus’s death. Jocasta rejoices, taking it as proof that Oedipus will not kill his father. Oedipus is still afraid of marrying his mother, but the messenger tells him he has nothing to fear – his parents were unrelated to him. The messenger knows this, because he was the one who brought Oedipus from a deserted mountainside to the couple. Probed by Oedipus, the messenger reveals that the servant who gave Oedipus to him was of the house of Laius. An increasingly agitated Jocasta exits. The shepherd arrives, and, though initially hesitant to speak, eventually reveals to Oedipus that Oedipus is the son of Jocasta and Laius.

A second messenger enters, and tells the audience that Jocasta has hanged herself, and that Oedipus blinded himself with Jocasta’s brooches. Oedipus enters, blinded, and asks to be taken to his children. Pitying him, Creon obliges. Oedipus apologises to his children, weeps, and leaves Thebes. In the end, he acknowledges the might of the gods, and their ultimate power over men.

Narrative voice, style, and symbolism

The style in Oedipus Rex is very similar to that used in other greek tragedies. Sophocles makes use of a limited number of actors, and reveals the same information to the reader as he does to Oedipus. This creates strong dramatic irony, as the audience, more open-minded than Oedipus, can see what will happen before it does. The end appears inevitable, and Oedipus’s attempts to forestall it marks of his obstinacy. Several characters, notably Oedipus, change throughout the play. Oedipus starts the play confident, assured, arrogant and patronizing, but he breaks apart until eventually, utterly destroyed by the gods, he blinds himself to show the depths of his pain.

There are several motifs in the play. The most notable motif is that of sight, blindness and being able to see. Ironically, Teiresias, a blind man, can see better than Oedipus. Indeed, Oedipus is almost willfully blind, ignoring the truth until it is almost painfully obvious. Oedipus blinds himself with his mother’s brooches, something that he should never have seen.

Another prominent motif is the battle between fate and free will. Though Oedipus makes all of his choices himself, and he and his family do his best to avoid the prophecy, they ultimately play right into fate’s hands. Ironically, they would have likely done better to have done nothing at all. Oedipus, at the beginning of the play, is confident in his abilities – he goes so far as to suggest he can find the killer without the help of the gods. By the end of the play, he is no longer doubtful in the power of the gods. This theme ties in with the frequent mentions of crossroads. Symbolic of choices, the death of Laius takes place on a crossroads. Ironically, it seems that no one on the crossroads had any choice at all.

Significant quotes:

“Apollo, friend, it was he / who brought these ills to pass / But the hand that dealt the blow was mine, none other” – Oedipus

“Why should a mortal man, the plaything of chance, / With no knowledge of the future, be afraid?” – Jocasta

“And yet his fortune brought him little joy; / Blind, though he could see” – Teiresias to Oedipus


Sight harbors blindness

Arrogance breeds defiance

Fate conquers choice