Sophocles' "Oedipus The King" has been enjoyed by audiences and readers for over two thousand years in part because he so skillfully incorporates symbolism, irony and paradox into the play.
Sophocles uses symbolism to help the reader further appreciate the plot of the play. Perhaps the most infamous symbolic act committed in all of literature is Oedipus murdering his own father. This is an act loaded with symbolic meaning. By doing away with his father, he is firmly establishing himself as the father figure to whom others look for guidance. He addresses his subject as his "children." He does, in fact, literally become king directly because he has killed the man who fathered him. The kingship is itself symbolic of leadership and paternal order in the grander scheme of things. Another symbolic act Oedipus commits is the marrying of his mother. The symbolism inherent here is Oedipus's final assumption of the role of father through the most extreme of measures: by taking his father's lover as his own. There is a completeness to the patricide here; after killing the father and assuming his role, he then takes over the family order completely.
Sophocles' use of irony in the play directly affects the way we feel about the character of Oedipus. We are aware of the events which will lead to his downfall and so he becomes a much more sympathetic character than he otherwise might be. Dramatic irony is used throughout the play as we are cognizant-and the characters are not-of past episodes which directly affect the outcome of the story. Sophocles also successfully uses twist of fate irony. Oedipus pronounces that whoever is revealed to be the killer of Laios will be punished with exile. The irony involved here is that it is Oedipus himself who will have to live with the very fate that he set down for whomever turned out to be the killer.
Paradox is utilized to great effect in the play. There is Teiresisas, the literally blind man who sees clearly all that is going to...