Role of Women as Depicted In “Oedipus Rex” and “The Chronicles of Death Foretold”

Gender plays a central role in the lives of human beings from the time of their birth all through their lives on earth. From the time of their first breaths, humans learn to follow a strict code of conduct defined by their sex. In a patriarchal society, this mainly implies that males will lead better lives in which they are regarded as standards for human experience (Sultana, 2012). On the other hand, women will tend to lead subjugated, subservient lives in which they are defined concerning males. Forcing men and women to operate within the confines of gender roles has a negative influence in their lives since it leads to the perception that these roles are a representation of the truth, which in turn results into gender stereotypes. It also restricts humans to experience life from a limited point of view in which men will experience the world purely as men whereas women will experience the world as women. The representation and characterization of women in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Marquez’s Chronicles of Death Foretold gives a glance of the different ways in which patriarchy is constituted, constructed and re-invented in the social context. Women are generally portrayed as unnecessary beings whose existence is purely for materialistic purposes and to satisfy men’s desires. However, in the two novels, women show resistance to the oppressive subjugation and appear to play roles that are more dormant. Therefore, while the authors of the two novels share some similar views on women, they differ in some aspects. This analysis entails a comparative analysis of the different roles that these women play in the novels. In presenting their stories, both authors use a number of literary devices such as irony, diction and metaphors to achieve their intended effect on the readers.

One similarity between the two novels concerning the role of women is that the women are repressed sexually. The women in both novels are supposed to take instructions without questioning and no one cares whether they consent or not. They too are afraid of speaking out due to the fear of victimization from the society. Sophocles in Oedipus Rex employs irony in presenting this concept in Oedipus’ attempt to avoid a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus ironically slays a man he meets on his way not knowing that it is his real father and is later offered Queen Jocasta’s hand in marriage who is actually his real mother. Jocasta is used like an object in this case since after her husband gets killed, her ownership is taken over by the person who killed her husband. Even though she is a queen, she has little say on the occurrences in her life. This sends a picture that women easily forget what is dear to them either for the fear of the society or for their own selfish gains. Similarly, Marquez uses irony in communicating the serious repercussion of the gender-based pressure on female characters in which they were expected to remain virgins until they got married. Just like in Oedipus, women in this case are also used as objects with their sex being used to determine their purity or worthiness. Given an opportunity, no one would purchase an object that is already used and so in this case, women who are not virgins are treated as second-hand objects. Victoria Guzman, after falling in love with Ibrahim Nasar does many things for him including making love to him in secret for several years in the stables of the ranch. This shows how much sacrificial women can be in the name of love. The diction of the word love is important as it shows that she had fully committed herself to him and was willing to please him sexually despite their love being illegitimate. However, after they got married, and Nasar’s affection for her melted off, he converted her to a cook in his household. She moved from being a wife to being a servant. There was a shift in objectification of Guzman from being an object of pleasure to a cook and this made her an emblem of the victim woman.

Women in both stories are subjected to double standards. In this case, the authors use symbolism to expose the poor judgment of the society and that recipients of these judgements, who are women, end up bearing the burden of the misjudgement. Even though they commit the same sins or wrongs, women end up suffering consequences of their actions. For instance, in Oedipus, Creon walled Antigone alive inside a tomb. Her imprisonment is a symbol of Creon’s lack of judgement and hence that of the society in which he hails. Creon prefers to keep Polynices’ rotting body in day light whereas keeping Antigone’s live body in a tomb. In the chronicle, the author also used symbolism to determine or to show the state of women purity. When Angela makes artificial flowers with a hope of redeeming herself, she hopes that creating these flowers will hide her impurity. The flowers in this case also symbolize the double standards with which women are treated. Women are demonized for inability to maintain their virginity without considering that it is the same men who deflowered the women. It is a classic case of when a man cheats on his woman, it is considered as a normal occurrence. On the other hand, when a woman cheats on her man, it is considered an abomination. Thus, the circumstances that women go through are used to symbolize the social inequity in the social set up. Women are also used as symbols of power. When a man gets wealth and power, he is able to win over any woman he wishes. As earlier highlighted, Oedipus gets Jocasta as a token after killing Jocasta’s husband who was the reigning king. Therefore, the woman in this case symbolizes that a man is powerful enough to concur anyone around him. Similarly, in the Chronicle, for Bayado, it is simply a matter of conquest for the woman that he chooses. After he acquires wealth and position, Angela Vicario becomes his object of sexual desire. From the beginning of the novel, it is clear that Angela does not have any feelings towards Bayado since at one point she confessed that she did not want to marry him, as he appeared to be too much of a man for her. However, she is not in a position to make a decision due to immense pressure from her family. When she tries to tell her mother of her lack of love for him, her mother quickly shuts her down with the phrase that “Love can be learned.” This showed how women were conditioned and taught to align their emotions and feelings with the expectations of the patriarchal society.

The authors use diction to portray women as victims of circumstance and to achieve different purposes in their stories. Sophocles employs diction to enhance his plot line and the character in his play. He uses this concept to set up the faults of the characters that eventually lead to a tragic ending. He makes use of several words that relate to the sight and pride, to the truth and darkness. He lets the readers guess in their minds with the choice of words he uses. For instance, the leader tells Oedipus to put his requests to Creon as he is the sole defence of the country in his place. Through this, Sophocles easily draws the attention of the reader through the use of the word choice with “sole defence of the country.” Unfortunately, the author also uses diction against women in which following the realisation by Jocasta that Oedipus is her son, and that they had committed incest, she decided to hang herself leading to her tragic end. Marquez, on the other hand, also uses diction in the description of a number of his characters most notably Maria Alejandrina whom he potrays as a holy character in a number of occasions in the novel. At the beginning of the novel the author uses the word “apostolic” awards as an introduction to the character of Maria. He introduces her as a holy and respectable character in spite of her impure character as a prostitute. The paradox of holy and impure is a stunning information that exemplifies the inconsistency of women. The author goes further to credit Maria’s holiness through the manner in which he described his encounter with her. The author states that as soon as he went into the room, with the lights out, he caught the smell of a warm woman and noted the eyes of an insomniac leopard in the darkness. The author states that, “I didn’t know anything else about myself until the bells began to ring”(41). The flamboyant imagery of a woman who is sexually appealing and burning with warmth via a multitude of metaphors would only be comparable to a fierce leopard. In this case, the narrator acknowledges Maria’s power as a female partner. In addition, the author uses diction to bring out the nature of the relationship between Guzmam and Nasar. For instance, her relationship with Ibrahim Nasar kicked off when “she had been seduced in the fullness of her adolescence”(10). This sentence contains the diction and the syntax that is pivotal as it displays the nature of the relationship as explotative. Men use women only for their satisfaction. Sophocles also employs imagery and just like Marquez, who praises women, perceived to be a weak group of people, he also praises the superiority of the Tiresias, a blind prophet who, physically, passes as weak. For instance, in the novel, Oedipus, despite being able to see, is oblivious of what is taking place around him. Oedipus has the ability to see physically but chooses to remain ignorant about what his family is going through. This is an aspect of sight against blindness imagery. Tiresiass, who is physically blind, is fully aware of what is happening around him. From this episode, it is apparent that while Oedipus has sight, Tiresias has insight, which enables him to see what Oedipus cannot see. It is a form of irony that Oedipus is not able to see and yet he has a perfect physical eye but rather makes a decision on what he wants to see and what he does not want to see.

Women in these novels are depicted as culprits and instigators. A major difference between the two novels is that unlike in the chronicle, women in Oedipus were given a much bigger role. Jocasta, the main female actor, is given the role serving as a queen. However, Sophocles puts the blame for the unfortunate events entirely on her after she sent away her son Oedipus. The author employs diction and the tone shifts to a sympathetic tone, which makes the viewers to sympathize with Oedipus. This is also envisioned in other Greek literacy pieces where women come across as temptresses and seductive. They are in most cases linked to the failures or total demise of heroes. On the other hand, in the Chronicle, Marquez unlike Sophocles shows some sympathy towards the subjugation of women. He is against the senseless violence perpetuated on women and makes use of his important women to make an effort to end the senseless violence. For instance, Clotilde Armenta urges the twins to stop the murder when Santiago takes a walk through her teashop. When she meets Bedoya, she informs him to pass a warning to Santiago and goes ahead to inform the Bishop and the authorities. She even goes ahead to make a physical intervention holding Vicario’s collar to avert the murder. Marquez acknowledges the potential of women through Clotilde who believes that it is the solitary nature of women that prevents them from making changes in their bid to stop senseless violence and exploitation.

Another difference between the two novels is that Sophocles paints women as heartless. According to the novel, all that they care for is for their wellbeing. This is evident through Jocasta’s decision to abandon Oedipus after giving birth to him. While it was common for children to be abandoned, mothers usually have a stronger bond to the children and so disposing off the child in such a manner can haunt any mother.  The author presents women as hypocritical through the manner in which Jocasta is behaving. As the play continues, she is seen praying to the god Apollo, giving offerings and requesting for his protection. This scene depicts the hypocrisy in her character. She appears not to be weary of the gods she is praying at, but the supposed servants such as Tiresias. Ideally after the death of her husband, one would expect that she would be mourning and that should not accept to move into another marriage. However, the opposite happens. Jocasta agrees to get married to the person who killed her husband. This indeed raises many questions about her morals and conscience. She appears not to have any conscience at all and being a woman, this is the perception she creates about women to the audience. The author allows the audience to believe that women are not to be trusted and that as soon as they get an opportunity to be at a better place, they would do anything without harbouring guilt in their conscience. On the other hand, Marquez depicts women as sympathetic. Women in Chronicles are more concerned about the welfare of their children and are bold enough to take steps to ensure that the society becomes a better place. For instance, the women have the extreme responses to the guilt of murder in the novel.  Hortensia Borte, whom the nearest she came to the murder was seeing two bloody knives was so much distressed by the entire experience that she suffered a nervous breakdown until one day, being unable to take it any longer, ran out into the streets naked. Santiago’s fiancée took off with a lieutenant of the border patrol whereas Aura Villeras suffered a severe bladder spasm.

Finally, the two novels present women differently in the Foucauldian paradigm of power. According to Michel Foucault, power is everywhere. He challenges the belief that people through their acts of domination or coercion wield power (Daldal, 2014). Joscata, the major female character in Oedipus Rex, despite having the ability to, does not use her power appropriately. Instead, it is the blind prophet Tiresias, who, despite being perceived to have no power, is able to influence Oedipus decisions. On the other hand, Marquez explores the Foucauldian paradigm of power through his female characters. Women, appearing as powerless in the society, use different strategies of direct and indirect forms of resistance to subvert the patriarchal order. For instance, the Vicario sisters, growing under a strict surveillance system resisted this style of growth through female bonding. The non-virgin status of Angela can be perceived as her refusal for her life to be dictated by the system that required women to be a part of pre-marital celibacy. When Bayado reject her, Angela actively pursues him with determination out her sexual desire for him without fear of going against the societal expectation. As such, Marquez enables a subversive comprehension of the women’s practices outlined as deceptive under the patriarchal system.

In conclusion, contrasting the roles that women play in “Oedipus Rex” and “The Chronicles of Death Foretold” has unfolded the fact that the aspect of gender roles and gender issues existed even from ancient civilizations. Another significant point to note in this case is the use of literary devices in achieving the desired effect on the audience. The authors have employed several literary devices ranging from diction to metaphors and imagery to involve the audience into the flow of the story. For instance, Sophocles effectively used diction to make the audience have sympathy on Oedipus. He also used tonal variations to direct the audience on who to blame for certain occurrences. For instance, he used tonal variations to lay blame on Joscata for abandoning Oedipus when he was still a very young child. Similarly, Marquez has employed similar literary devices to dictate the mood of the audience. For instance, the use of diction, metaphors and imagery to describe Maria in such a way that the audience could literally see what he saw the moment he entered the dark room. Marquez effectively used these devices to create a vivid picture of what was going on in the novel making the novel quite interesting.  In the end, we can say that while Oedipus brought out the characterization of women and gender relations in the Greek context, Marquez characterization was a unique and complex gender relation that is reflected in the Latin American society. The unifying aspect of the two novels is that both the authors wrote the books in a male perspective.














Daldal, A. (2014). Power and ideology in Michel Foucault and Antonio Gramsci: A comparative analysis. Review of History and Political Science, 2(2), 149-167.

Dawe, R. D. (1982). Sophocles: Oedipus Rex. Cambridge University Press.

Márquez, G. G. (1996). Chronicle of a death foretold. Penguin Books India.

Sultana, A. (2012). Patriarchy and women’s subordination: A theoretical analysis. Arts Faculty Journal, 4, 1-18.


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