Oedipus the King & The Darker Face of the Earth
In Rita Dove’s The Darker Face of the Earth, the hero of the tragedy is Augustus in Oedipus’ stead. So, too, instead of ancient Thebes we are in the pre-Civil War south on a cotton plantation. Oedipus is a play where the title hero unwittingly kills his father and sleeps with his mother. As a result, in outrage and anger the gods visit all manner of plague and drought upon Thebes. A prophet warns Oedipus he does not want to know the answer when he asks why the gods treat Thebes thus. The tragedy becomes, Oedipus does want to know and when he discovers himself to be the murderer of his father, the bed partner of his mother, and the cause of woe in Thebes, he exiles himself. However, unlike Augustus, who is carried away at the end of Dove’s work in triumph as a liberator of his oppressed people, Oedipus is filled with shame, horror, and dread over his deeds: “Surely the gods hate me”, “Drive me out of Thebes in exile”, [to his children] “Such disgrace and you must bear it all” (249, 249, 248).
Augustus, on the other hand, sleeps with his mother, but is not the cause of his people’s woes on a Carolina plantations as Oedipus is the cause of the people of Thebes’ woes. Dove makes use of many transformations which foreshadow the transformation at the ending of the play – Augustus’ triumph. Unlike Oedipus, Augustus is just being born when Dove’s drama opens. He is a mixed-raced bastard son of the plantation owner’s white wife and an African named Hector, but instead of killing the child as the plantation owner wishes, the doctor declares they announce it born dead. Twenty years later, the interval between the prologue and act one and two, Augustus is returned to the cotton plantation in chains, a slave brought there by fate. Where Sophocles lets us learn of the horrors committed by Oedipus through the protagonist’s eyes, here we see th