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Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” and Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King” Essay Sample

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Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” and Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King” Essay Sample

            When movies or novels are being reviewed, critics never forget to include an analysis of the characters, plot, setting, themes, and directing or writing style of the directors and writers. Often than not, critics focus on how the said elements blend. They review whether a director or a writer was successful in blending such components of film and story. It is very seldom to read a film or novel critique that emphasizes on the historical basis of the stories. New Historicism lives on the premise that a certain text can never be separated from the political, social, and economic situations present during the time it was written. Such kind of criticism will be used in analyzing two widely-acclaimed stories—Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” and Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King”. By using New Historicism, it can be said that need for power generate historical and cultural events, which in return are used by artists to create and produce their masterpiece.

            “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a 2006 movie telling the tale of a young girl named Ofelia amidst the post-Civilian War in Spain. Her mother, Carmen, has just remarried a colonel and brought Ofelia in his house. In this house, the young girl discovered a labyrinth wherein she met the magical creature Pan, telling her the she is the lost princess of the Underworld Realm—princess Moanna. To find the truth about her identity, Ofelia has to take three dangerous tasks. The first task of retrieving a key from the belly of a giant toad was done successfully. The second was a failure, as Ofelia did not succeed to use the retrieved key in getting the ornate dagger from the Pale Man’s lair. Because of this, Pan did not reveal to her the third task until the time he decided to give Ofelia another chance. Ofelia managed to do the third task as she sacrificed her own life instead of her baby brother’s.

At the end of the story, Ofelia returned to the Underworld Realm and lived immortally. On the other hand, the story of “Oedipus the King” is a portrayal of how difficult it is to alter a man’s fate. The play opens when Oedipus, King of Thebes is in search for the cure to the plague that harms the kingdom. The audience will then be directed to events before the opening scene. It would be discovered that Oedipus, even before crowned as king, was prophesied to be the killer of his own father and husband to his own mother. He was sent away by his own parents to avoid the prophecy. However, years later, Oedipus had killed a man named Laius and crowned as King of Thebes after he got the right answer to the Sphinx’s riddle, freeing the kingdom from plague. He married Jocasta and they had four children. The prophecy then happened. Because of his tragedy, Oedipus stabbed his eyes and left the kingdom in grief.

            Using New Historicism as the central theory, analysis was made according to the way power is portrayed in the two texts. Power is said to be the lowest common denominator for all human actions (Foucault 1979). It is also the reason why marginalized or controlled people exist. Since works of literature are often written by those who possess power, texts are a good source of evidence of how power was used during a certain period or time. They are also good source of details that would show the views of the marginalized or the controlled group of people. Because of this, it is important to look for examples of power in the texts and how these samples are were used.

In “Pan’s Labyrinth”, power is controlled by Colonel Vidal, Ofelia’s father, who also represents the power of Francisco Franco’s regime.  This power operation is explicitly seen. The presence of the guerillas makes that power threatened. People who also oppose the government, such as the Doctor and the guerilla spy Mercedes, are threat to the power. A child like Ofelia seems to be not a threat. However, if it would be analyzed, children like Ofelia are those people who possess the brightest dreams that adults often regard as fantasy stories. Carmen’s preventing of Ofelia from reading fairy tales books is not only an action to please Colonel Vidal. Actually, Vidal’s despise for fairy tales is an indication that he acknowledge the power of children’s imagination. Children like Ofelia are a threat to his power. It can be said that student activists were a big threat to Franco’s power. In fact, they were greatly repressed during the 1960’s and 1970’s by the police. (Thomas 1977). This suggests that the power of the youth is being acknowledged as a powerful tool against oppression. The strength of the youth lies not on their physical force, but on their power to both imagine and put into actions innovative ideas that will make a big change.

On the other hand, power in “Oedipus the King” seems to be portrayed differently by Sophocles. Here, power is not in the hands of human but fate. This power relations is not explicitly seen in the text although by analyzing it, it could be concluded that man’s fate is the most powerful element in the story. Clearly, the text shows that man cannot alter his fate. He cannot change it no matter how he tries to avoid things from happening. The story of Oedipus is just a proof that the Greeks during the time Sophocles wrote his play are great believers of the power of supernatural beings. The presence of gods and goddesses, as well as their notion that these super beings could be interacted with just like humans, are very rampant in the story. Because of these, early Greeks strongly believe that fate is much stronger and powerful than humans. The strong belief of early Greeks on fate and super beings also suggests the kind of society they had before. They based their decisions on oracles, which indicates that their society is a religious one. Although some early Greeks, just like Socrates and Aristotle, were already radical thinkers during that time, early Greek society still based their lives believing in gods and goddesses. This thinking and kind of society is very much evident on how Sophocles presented the tragic story of Oedipus. The use of fate as a powerful entity indicates how important for the early Greeks their destinies.

Works Cited

Felluga, Dino. Application of New Historicism: Spenser’s Amoretti: Questions.

Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. 28 November 2003. Purdue U. 4 August 2008.

<http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/newhistoricism/applications//applicationspenser.html>.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. Translation of Surveiller et Punir. Vintage, 1979

Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1977

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