Oedipus Rex, when broken down into its core ingredients, is a story of a man's dealing with his guilt at inadvertent murder of his father and incest with his mother.
Many people over the decades have thought that King Oedipus didn't deserve the troubles and misfortunes he encountered. It was believed that the god's predetermined people's lives, and it was unavoidable. Others thought that everyone had their specific place in life. They must die on their "appointed day," but whatever happened in between those two "fateful days" is up to their free will. It is the choices they make in their lifetime that determine their happiness.
In any case, Sophocles has provided a conclusive answer to those who suggest that Oedipus could, and therefore should, have avoided his fate. The oracle was "unconditional." it did not say, "If you do so-and-so you will kill your father," it simply said "You will kill your father and sleep with your mother." The ancients believed that whatever an Oracle predicts was bound to happen. Oedipus does what he can to evade his destiny, he resolves never to see his supposed parents again. But it is quite certain from the first that his best efforts will fail.
Others would argue that because Oedipus was a tyrannical ruler and didn't make the best choices in life, he deserved to suffer. E. R. Dodds states that, "Oedipus' behavior on the stage reveals the man he always was: he was punished for his basically unsound character." It was unavoidable and was his destiny to suffer in life. It was certainly not his fault that he reacted to his circumstances as he did.
One of the most outstanding examples of the god's predetermination, is when Oedipus recalls memories of his own childhood in Corinth when the oracle warns him that he will one day slay his father, and defile the bed of his mother. Oedipus tried to change his destiny, by running away from his adoptive parents, but instead, he runs into the very person, who he was trying so desperately to avoid in the first place, King Laios, his father. At the crossroads in Phokis, Laios' chariot driver tried to push Oedipus off the road. The driver pushed him to make him get out of the way, and when he did, Oedipus beat him. As Laios' chariot passed by, he hit Oedipus. Then Oedipus in return, hit Laios with his staff, killing him. Then he proceeded to kill the rest of them, but unknowingly let the driver who provoked the attack in the first place escape. So he does exactly what he was predestined to do.
Ignorance is a factor in determining whether he deserves to suffer or not. It's not the determining factor, but it helps to show different ways in which he suffered. All his life he was deceived by all that he knew. First he was deceived by his maternal parents Laios and Jocasta by being given to the Herdsman to be discarded. But instead of abandoning Oedipus, being too kind hearted, the Herdsman gave Oedipus to a shepherd. The shepherd then gave Oedipus to the king and queen of Corinth because they had no children. Latter in Oedipus' life, he ran away from them hoping to get away from the oracle's prophecy, thinking they were his real parents. They deceived him by not telling him that he was adopted and who his real parents were.
Another thing that shows Oedipus' ignorance is the fact that he unknowingly married his mother! That shows the great dramatic irony of Oedipus Rex.As mentioned above, the situation when Oedipus killed Laios, is another great example of ignorance on his part. Some can say that he was just protecting himself. But that can't be true because when the servant pushed him, he should have just backed away, instead of killing all of them. Thus in many ways, his ignorance resulted in the tragic events of his life.
Oedipus knew that Laios was someone who was wealthy and influential. But no matter how ignorant Oedipus was of the situation, he killed Laios and his servants. Ignorance is no excuse; he killed Laios and his men, and that is reason enough for receiving the torment he receives latter in the Epic. All these bad choices Oedipus made throughout his life, ended up "blinding" him in the end.
Perhaps the only thing that shows Oedipus' "free will" is his self-inflicted punishment. He blinded himself, and asked to be banished. This was his choice, although some would argue that his punishment was predetermined once the curse of his future came to full measure.
Oedipus, like many men, tried to forget the sins of his past by punishing himself in the future. He blinded himself to his past sins by attempting to forget or repress his memories. Oedipus tried to punish himself by continuing to suffer from the consequences of his sin as well as the consequences of his punishment.
Oedipus deserves his fate no more than any other person deserves the circumstances of his birth. The only responsibility one has is to make the best of one's circumstances. Whether one deserves it or not is a meaningless question. Oedipus was a victim of events, and he was also a victim of wrong doings on his part. However, he was also the undeserved recipient of many good things which he certainly did not "deserve." He was born with a healthy body, and he was born into a society that was not torn by war, famine, or disease. He was raised in a place of privilege as the son of the king and queen of Corinth. If only Oedipus would have stopped his relentless search for truth and heeded what Jocasta was saying to him. "Why worry? See your dreams for what they are, nothing, nothing at all. Be happy, Oedipus. Be happy."
Oedipus Rex is a classic that will live on because it is really the story of every man. We are born under circumstances that we certainly did not choose. We struggle to rid ourselves of the "curses" of our situation, and seek the rewards of our opportunities. Although we may strive to do our best, certain unforeseen events seem to always enter our lives that challenge our efforts. The fact is, life is not fair. The sooner we learn that truth, somehow, that seems to make life easier. The tragedy of Oedipus is not that he suffered undeservedly. That happens to everyone. Oedipus never learned this, and that is why his life is a tragedy.