Structuralist Analysis: Binary Oppositions In Oedipus Rex

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A Structuralist Analysis: Binary Oppositions in Oedipus Rex
Oedipus Rex is perhaps the Greek tragedy with the broadest variety of literary and psychoanalytical interpretations. It is a myth that represents the Greeks’ drive to explain and categorize thematic and sociological dualities as part of human nature. Oedipus Rex thus lends itself reasonably well to structuralist literary analysis, which postulates that words consist only of form. Words themselves have no inherent meaning, but can only represent ideas, which are defined by their relationship to other ideas. In particular, ideas are defined by their opposites, and these pairs are known as binary oppositions. For example, the meaning of “good” must be incomplete without knowing the meaning of “evil”, and thus language and ideas are provided with a holistic structure. In this paper, the binary oppositions present in Oedipus Rex will be analysed with reference to the methods of anthropologists Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jean-Pierre Vernant. Their work was integral in developing structuralist literary theory in the early 20th century, and though they differ in their approaches to the analysis of myth, both base their ideas on the concept of binary oppositions.
Binary oppositions in a cultural context are not entirely symmetrical – due to dominant cultural ideologies, there will always be one idea that is preferred over its opposite. This can be seen in any one of the many binaries in Oedipus Rex – for example, that of light
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