The mind is a very intricate device. Without even knowing, it alters the way that decisions are made, and how reality is seen. It automatically changes the way someone can handle stress, how to act in the face of adversity, and how somebody will defuse a situation. When we are faced with stress, the body uses a series of defense mechanisms to help cope, and as a result causes the actions a person makes to be driven by the defense mechanisms they use.
In the Greek drama Oedipus The King by Sophocles, a story about a ruler learning about their past and the implications that come in the present, defence mechanisms are shown throughout the story by various characters. When Oedipus is told by the soothsayer that he is “Both son and spouse… to his own father, and murdered him. ” (Sophocles 19).
As one of the most renowned works in Western literature, Oedipus The King is no stranger to analysis and interpretation. However, one area that has received relatively less attention is the role of defense mechanisms in the Oedipus The King.
One of the most obvious examples is denial. When Oedipus learns that he has killed his father and married his mother, he refuses to believe it at first. He even goes so far as to accuse Teiresias, the blind prophet, of lying. Denial is a way of coping with the overwhelming anxiety that Oedipus feels at the prospect of his own guilt.
Another example of a defense mechanism is projection. Oedipus projects his own feelings of guilt and shame onto Teiresias, accusing him of being a liar and a fraud. This allows Oedipus to avoid confronting his own emotions head-on.
Oedipus also uses displacement as a defense mechanism. When he learns that he has killed his father, he directs his anger and frustration at Creon, his brother-in-law. This allows Oedipus to avoid dealing with the full implications of his actions.
Defense mechanisms are psychological strategies that we use to protect ourselves from anxiety and emotionally painful experiences. Oedipus The King is a tragedy written by Sophocles in which the main character, Oedipus, tries to escape his fate only to end up fulfilling it. Oedipus uses various defense mechanisms throughout the Oedipus The King in order to deal with the challenges he faces. Some of these defense mechanisms include denial, regression, and displacement.
Denial is when an individual refuses to accept reality or facts. Oedipus is in denial about his role in the death of King Laius. He also denies that he is responsible for the plague that has befallen Thebes. Oedipus’s denial allows him to avoid the pain and anxiety that come with facing the truth.
Regression is when an individual reverts back to a younger stage of development. Oedipus regresses when he blinds himself after learning that he killed his father and married his mother. This act of self-mutilation can be seen as Oedipus trying to escape from the reality of his situation.
Displacement is when an individual redirects their emotions to a different target. Oedipus displaces his anger towards Tiresias, the blind prophet, even though it is really himself that he is angry with. Oedipus is unable to accept responsibility for his actions so he projects his feelings onto someone else.
Defense mechanisms are often used in Oedipus The King as a way for Oedipus to cope with the difficult reality he is facing. By using denial, regression, and displacement, Oedipus is able to avoid the full extent of the pain and anxiety he would otherwise feel.
Oedipus denies this by confronting Creon and saying “This same thing, do not tell methat you are not a villain! Not willing to admit that he may have actually married his mother and killed his father, Oedipus is trying to cope with this new accusation by not admitting that the soothsayer may be true. Furthermore, Oedipus projected his anger and frustration onto Creon by saying that he conspired with the soothsayer to taint his image. Oedipus then adjust how he handles the situation based on the actions, continually rejecting the prophecy until all the information is against him. Another huge example of denial is seen through Oedipus’s mother/wife, Jocasta.
In a conversation with Oedipus and the Senator, Jocasta says “But be assured that was word, quite plainly… After all, the poor thing never killed him, but died itself before! ” (Sophocles 32-33). In this quote Jocasta is assuring Oedipus that he is not her son, since she left him to die when he was just a baby. Although Oedipus is starting to realize that he is actually the person that killed Laius and is fulfilling the prophecy, Jocasta still is denying it, since she still believes that Oedipus is not the killer of Laius, since the killer would be his son that Jocasta believes died at birth.
This shows that in this catastrophic situation, even as the evidence rose against Jocasta’s beliefs, she still wanted to believe that she was right until the end, adjusting her actions by trying to make Oedipus stay away from the situation. The last of the defense mechanisms is used when Oedipus meets the shepherd who gave him up at birth. Oedipus says phrases such as “Nay ,old man, do not chide him; for your words deserve a chiding rather than his own! ” (Sophocles 43) and “Tell me the whole truth, or you will come to it! ” (Sophocles 43).
In this exchange with the shepard, Oedipus goes as far as threatening to kill the shepherd if he doesn’t give Oedipus the whole truth to the questions. This is after the shepherd tells Oedipus that he gave Oedipus to another shepherd at birth. At this moment, Oedipus finally realized that he was sleeping with his mother and killed his father, and to cope with this, he displaces his anger on the shepard. Although the shepherd did what Oedipus wanted him to do, he still threatened to hurt or even kill him because he now knew for certain that the prophecy came true.
His actions were affected by the unconscious decision to take out his frustration and fears on the old man. Another great example showing the results of defense mechanisms on one’s actions is in the Greek drama Medea by Euripides, a story about Medea’s plan to exile revenge on her husband for leaving her. At the beginning of Medea, the nurse says “And here she lies fasting, yielding her body to her grief, wasting away in tears… never lifting her eye nor raising her face from off the ground. ” (Euripides 3).
In this quote, Medea has been struck with grief and hasn’t moved ever since she learned that she was wronged by her husband. When she learned that Jason was not faithful, she avoided Jason, and anyone else who is of significance in her life, shutting everyone out as she cried for days. To get through this, Medea adjusts her actions by not doing any actions at all. By avoiding the situation, even if it takes a long time, Medea shows up seemingly fine soon after by avoiding Jason. Later on in the Oedipus The King, we see another way that Medea uses defense mechanisms is during an exchange with Creon.
Medea says “Ah, me! Now is utter destruction come upon me, unhappy that I am! Form my enemies are bearing down on me full sail, nor have l any landing place to come at in my troubles. ” (Euripides 8) At a first glance it appears that there is no defence mechanisms here, but upon further inspection, it can be seen that Medea is actually using projection. In the quote she let out all of her problems onto Creon, in an attempt to make him have pity on her. Not only is this an attempt to get Creon to let her still reside in Corinth, but also she is now helping herself deal with losing her husband and home.
Rather than projecting anger and frustration, she projects pain, struggle, and sadness onto Creon. By wanting to cope with this new information while the conversation is ongoing, Medea adjusts her actions to project her problems onto Creon to receive pity points. Lastly is towards the end of the Oedipus The King, the chorus sings “Gone, Gone is every hope I had that the children yet might live; forth to their doom they now proceed. The hapless bride will take, ay, take the golden crown that is to be her ruin. ” (Euripides 23).
The chorus is conveying that Medea is now going to kill her children, and it can also be inferred that she is going to kill Creon’s daughter from the statement “… take the golden crown that is to be her ruin. ” since Glauce is of royal lineage, and a crown is normally symbolism of royalty. Even though only Jason angered Medea, she wants every reminder of him gone, projecting her anger onto her own children and Glauce to get rid of the correlation they have with Jason. Medea’s actions reflect this, even if they are a little extreme.
Another example of defense mechanisms in Greek literature is in the poem Hymn to Demeter, a story about the goddess Demeter’s struggle to find her missing daughter, by Hesiod. After Demeter finds that Persephone was stolen, the author writes “Afterwards, angered with Kronion (Zeus), lord of black clouds, she withdrew from the assembly of the gods and from the lofty Olympus… ” (Thury and Devinney 393). Demonstrating her grief, and her anger in the excerpt with Zeus, Demeter leaves Olympus entirely and departs for the earth.
Instead of facing Zeus, she wants to avoid him since she knows that he is more powerful than her. Her decision to leave Olympus is impacted by Demeter using avoidance of the problems source, Zeus. The other interesting quote lies later on when the story explains “Onto the much-nourishing earth she brought a year most dreadful and harsh for men; no seed in the earth sprouted, for fair wreathed Demeter concealed it” In layman’s terms, Demeter is so grief stricken that Persephone was taken from her that she doesn’t allow any crops to grow for a year, as Demeter is the goddess of the harvest.
Demeter is using displacement by not allowing any food to grow, starving the entire human race. Demeter is taking out her anger and grief on humans as a way to deal with the absence of Persephone. Since Demeter knows she can not take on Zeus, she uses the humanity as a punching bag. In summation, the actions that somebody will carry out after a traumatic event is directly correlated to the defense mechanisms that he/she uses.
This is a universal relation that has been seen throughout time, from the Greek dramas to the current situation with the Donald Trump protests. The more violent riots are because of people projecting their anger with the outcome of the election onto property and other people. Whether it is a 2000 year old story or one that happened a day ago, defense mechanisms have affected the way that people have worked since the beginning of time.