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Antigone's Character and Choices Essay



In the play Antigone, written by Sophocles, Antigone finds herself torn apart between divine law and state law. The play opens up at the end of a war between Eteocles and Polyneices, sons of Oedipus and brothers of Antigone and Ismene. These brothers, fighting for control of Thebes, kill each other, making Creon king of Thebes. Creon, as king, gives an important speech to the citizens of Thebes, announcing that Eteocles, who defended Thebes, will receive a proper burial, unlike his brother Polyneices, who brought a foreign army against Thebes. This speech introduces the major conflict of divine law versus state law. Furthermore, Creon cherishes order and loyalty above all else. He cannot bear to be disobeyed or watch the laws of the state be broken by anyone, especially by a woman. However, Antigone places her individual conscience and love for her brother Polyneices above and against the power and authority of the state, which costs her life.

In the opening of the play, Antigone and Ismene meet in the night. Antigone laments Creon's decree that whoever tries to bury Polyneices or mourn for him must be stoned to death. Although Ismene declares that the sisters lack any power in the situation, Antigone insists that she will bury Polyneices, and asks for Ismene's help. Ismene states that though she loves Polyneices, she must abide by the king's decree. Ismene, unlike Antigone, fears death. She believes that there is nothing that she can do. She reminds Antigone that they are only women and somewhat helpless. She also tries to convince Antigone that she will not be able to bury the body because she is in love with the bad. Antigone pays no mind to Ismene's arguments, saying that she places honor and love before law and death. It is evident, through this argument, that there is dramatic foil between Ismene and Antigone. Ismene is a typical woman of the Greek's society, accepting male dominance. She believes that a man can do as he pleases, and a woman must not get in the way of his wishes. Antigone, on the other hand, not only speaks her mind, but acts on her beliefs as well. In the end, she makes up her own rules and assumes full responsibility for her actions.

Although Creon has stated that the traitor Polyneices must not be given proper burial, Antigone is the only one who speaks against this decree and insists on the sacredness of family. Whereas Antigone sees no validity in a law that disregards the duty family members owe one another, Creon's point of view it the total opposite. Antigone calls attention to the difference between the divine law and human law. She doubts Creon's authority. Creon represents the power of human law and of the human need for an orderly, stable society. Between Antigone and Creon there is no compromise. They both find absolute truth in the beliefs they stand up for. Antigone admits right from the start that she wants to carry out the burial because it is a glorious action. Creon's pride is that of a tyrant, failing to take advice. They both suffer from pride, which causes them to overlook their own flaws.

Antigone is convinced that the next world is more important than this one. More importantly, not only will she defy Creon's law by performing the burial, but yell it out. Clearly Antigone does not fear death. Antigone, in spite of Creon's law and without her sister's assistance, resolves to give their brother a proper burial. Ismene feared helping Antigone bury Polyneices but offers to die beside Antigone when Creon sends her to die. Antigone, however, refuses to allow her sister to be killed for something she did not have the courage to stand up for.

The position of women is an important theme in this play. Gender has an impact on Antigone and her actions. Antigone does not stress her own gender openly, but Creon does, refusing to take back Antigone's punishment because she, a woman, has broken his law. One can view Antigone as being fed up with restrictions and obsessed with death and martyrdom. Clearly, she is motivated by love for her brother and by her strong belief that the divine law has been violated. However, becoming a martyr makes the consequences of her action an additional advantage, rather than an obstacle.

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