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Man vs. Woman in Sophocles' Antigone

Aug 13, 2019 at Literature Essays

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Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone was written according to mythology plot of the Theban cycle. Compared with other Sophocles’ plays, Antigone is one of the best-known debatable literary writing samples. The debates, arising out of tragedy’s plot and idea, are mostly led by philosophers, literary critics, and writers. Moreover, some of them wrote their interpretations of the noted tragedy, creating new artistic conceptions based on Antigone’s plot (Lucas). Such issues as the treatments of motives and tragedy conflicts are divisive with the high-pitched arguments. Antigone’s conflict is problematic, ambitious, developing a multifaceted approach of the ancient author, expressing his negative stance on ancient society differences and controversy. Reading the tragedy, people read about many interesting moments, which make them think of the eternal problems of the ancient time and compare them with the modern society development (Segal). Sophocles, being a genius writer, finds all pros and cons in support of each conflicting side: man and woman, government and religious, spiritual needs and demands vs. generally excepted rules and regulations. Answering the question “who is right?” it is challenging to give a categorical answer even at the end of the tragedy. Thus, all the conflict’s participants are defeated, leaving the right of choice to the reader. Neither prostrated evil enemy, nor glorious goodness can be the right answer to the final question. Fundamentally, all the tragedy's characters are forced into a conflict. It is important to understand that speaking about the conflict of genders the reader also notices the conflict of principles, which rapidly developing, touches the leading aspects of human development such as personality, gender differences, tradition and orderliness, ideology (Segal). The current paper will analyze the Antigone’s main characters and their life positions, identifying the facts, and discussing the power struggle between the genders, ideologies and principles illustrated in the play.

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Generally speaking, Antigone’s conflict involves describing the typical relations and points of view of the ancient society – the conflict between common generic laws and state rules through the example of gender opposition. Religious faiths, throwing back into an indigenous community, prescribed a man to reverence the laws, family relations, maintaining the customary observances in respect of blood relatives. On the contrary, each ancient citizen, who lived in the time of Sophocles, was obliged to follow the state laws, which contradicted with the family traditions and views (Beer). Each of the leading Antigone’s characters expresses his/her views, understanding of reality, actively participating in the conflict’s development to any extent.

In Sophocles’ tragedies, one can find a number of interesting literary characters, strongly and brightly described by a genius author. Analyzing the play, a reader can see that the main strong side of Antigone’s heroine is her will power, displayed in the struggle between her and King Creon, a fight for people’s right to be buried honorably, by rule. Till the end of the last page, the heroine was still keeping on the right side of a generic law. She does not have any doubts concerning the trueness of her decision. Believing in fatality as strong as in family relations, Antigone throws down a challenge to the law, policy and though, King Creon:

“I did, since Zeus had not pronounced these laws,

nor yet does Justice, dweller with the gods below,

prescribe such laws among the ranks of mortal men.

I did not think that your decrees were of such weight

that they could countermand the laws unfailing and

unwritten of the gods, and you a mortal only and a man.” (Bond,13, 450).

Thus, Antigone, during the whole play declares and upholds the justice of her attempts to discharge her family debt in relation to her dead brother, burying him according to religious traditions in spite of Creon’s order, which prohibited burying the state betrayer’s body. From the very beginning, King Creon claims the victory of the state rules, paying attention to his commitment fighting on behalf of the state interests that means much for him as for a king, staying in priority in front of other values, not excepting the interests of his family. These beliefs are the central source of King’s power and, therefore, his biggest disaster.

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There is one more character in Sophocles play which has one of the leading positions – Teiresias, a blind diviner. There are no important rules for him, except for goodness will. His position is not as controversial as a conflict between Creon and Antigone, but this man is worth mentioning for his unyielding efforts to point out to mistakes of Creon’s power, being headed for troubles and king’s wrath. Creon’s words: “You are skilled in prophecy, but attracted to crime” (Bond, 27, 1055), pointed to king’s disinclination to meet the gospel truth. Meanwhile, the rest of the characters are not so strong and independent, predicted to outline one or more controversial positions in the text. A good example of these words is Haimon, Creon’s son. Vindicating his father’s tough policy, Haimon was trying to convince the king to cancel the Antigone’s verdict, referring to a nice opportunity for him to earn the sympathy of the majority of people, not happy with the king’s positions. Among the variety of strong characters in Sophocles’ play, Ismene is also worth mentioning. Ismene is a secondary character, gentle and high-hearted, beautiful in her female weakness. She does not have the power of will and resolution as her sister has, but bearing the Antigone’s blame, Ismene is highly rising in the reader’s estimation:

“I have done this thing, if only she accepts my claim,

and I would share the guilt and in the punishment” (Bond, 5, 535).

As it was mentioned before, Ismene and Eurydice are the secondary characters, predicted to underline the central interactions, occurring between man and woman, Creon and Antigone: with the help of Ismene, the author shows Antigone’s decisive manners and Creon’s inhumanity. Her weakness and indecision are the contract theme of Antigone’s power, her strength and self-belief. However, Creon has lack credibility in the face of God’s power, as there is no force, which is capable of saving a man from his forfeit (Butler). Whatever the man does, everything can be turned against him - that is the tragedy’s irony.

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Antigone is Oedipus’ daughter, the king of the Thebes, who unwittingly killed his father. As a matter of fact, due to the combination of adverse circumstances, there is an eternal generic curse, weighting upon Antigone from the day of her birth. A will of Gods always appears with the help of a man’s hands. Creon and Antigone – are the victims of fatality and their direct opposition intensifies the battle, heating up the things. Thus, both of them are not right with their human pride, but Antigone to a lesser extent, as she advocates and protects strong religious ideas, which are so close and easy to understand for ancient citizens. Answering the question, from where does King Creon gain his power, it is important to admit that his power is a state law. However, what is the meaning of state rules in comparison with religious laws, common for all Hellenes (Segal). Reading the play, the readers can feel that Antigone’s heroine is closer to Sophocles than Creon. Who, watching the play, did not feel the compassion in relation to Antigone? Who felt sympathy to Creon? It is indeed, the strength of words. What is the meaning of Antigone’s tragedy in connection with the world literature? Antigone’s confession makes Creon punish her with his iron hand, seeing in a bad light her life position, as insubordination to his authority, and authority of Theban people. That was his main reason for her to be committed to death. What is the source of Antigone's power, then? It is important to remember that Antigone is a kind woman, who always stays true to her ideas. She is not afraid of death, as she knows that her family debt is more important in the face of all odds.

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Nevertheless, Sophocles’ Antigone was named a successful example of gender opposition. Women’s role has changed with the course of time. Antigone is a remarkable example of a new personality, revised version of a modern woman. She differs from the women of her generation by her behavior and words. As a matter of fact, Antigone expresses a feminist point of view, protecting her strong position and beliefs. It was a quite new opportunity for an ancient woman to have a voice in everything. Some feminist positions idealize and romanticize Antigone’s heroine. On the other hand, this type of a woman is an ambivalent symbol of world’s feminism, a woman, who plays her role until the end, proudly meeting the system that established that role for her (Soderback). At that time when Creon, a King, and state regent, prohibits her from burying Polyneices’ body, Antigone rises against the state repression, state rules and obligations, being followed by the blood relations – her woman’s prediction. Antigone’s law is her family relations. Although this play contains perfect examples of an anti-feminist viewpoint duly represented by King Creon that was common in that period of time:

“This woman, though, has always known the way

of arrogance, just now did contravene established law

and still compounds, a second time, her crime of pride,

indulging herself in laughter and boasting her guilt.

And so I am myself no man, but rather she the man,

should she retain this seeming victory unchecked” (Bond, 14, 480).

The above quote shows how much Creon believes that men are superior beings, comparing them in the sense that if he lets Antigone continue her rightless behavior, he would be no better than a woman. Antigone, as a woman of spirit, carries her position by her efforts, putting her ideas, not just sitting and waiting like many of the women of that time and she actually does something. Moreover, she goes further, countering a man’s will that defines her as a person, and not just as a woman (Soderback).

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Sophocles’ Antigone is a beautiful tragedy, written about one’s readiness to make sacrifices for the sake of better morality, for the welfare of a person that one loves, for a member of a family. The tragedy enables the readers to think about a true meaning of happiness, honors, and humanity. Reading the Sophocles’ tragedy, people remember a sad history of Greek Romeo and Juliette that was a tragic final stage of Oedipus’ family curse. The story is impressive because of its bright characters: no one can forget Antogine’s struggle, Haimon, falling on his sword and Creon, discredited, broken down to his knees, destroyed everything he had with his hands. It was a war that was completely finished with the death of the last soldier. Nevertheless, it has no sense to which side this soldier belongs, a good or bad. Speaking of human cruelty, self-will, willpower, Sophocles provides a concept of forgiveness – rarity of all ages. A tragedy speaks with genius words about people’s equality “in the teeth of death,” giving a right to be buried according to religious rules and traditions. Living honestly, according to God’s will, Antigone cannot make a wrong step, even, under the pain of death. Her life, and so, her death is like an indicator, warning about people’s mistakes, appealing to live according to the right and good, through the example of gender opposition. It is remarkable, how much Sophocles’ tragedies, written at the dawn of time, are emotionally experienced (Letters). They are full of bright characters that had run through the difficulties, created with the aim to send a message to modern people, making them think, conclude, and pick the correct interpretation of the ancient events.

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