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Antigone: Portrayal Of Women Essay


In Sophocles and Anouilhs versions of Antigone, the playwrights have very strict guidelines when portraying their female characters. This portrayal is supported through the reversal of gender roles, as well as stereotypical appearances of women. Through the breaking of gender stereotypes and the failure to abide by gender law, the characters in both versions of Antigone succumb to the temptation of suicide. By examining the characters in each play, it is clear that those who follow gender laws and have pleasing appearances are given choice over their fate, and those that do not must die, their death allowing them to achieve the concept of true beauty. Those that break assigned gender laws will have no choice but to submit to an inevitable death. Physical appearances also play an important role, as they allow the aesthetically appealing characters to choose their own end, be it life or death while the rebels to gender roles must suffer, and become recognized for their true beauty only in death.

Gender laws are very specific, and a common way to break through them is by reversing gender roles. Antigone is masculine, having the inner strength and willpower to go against male law. This is an undesirable trait in a woman for the men of Antigone. To emphasize her bold character, Antigone says, Why should you do that? To see me cry? To hear me beg for mercy? And swear whatever you wish, and then begin all over again?(Anouilh, 48). The presence of her masculinity implies that only masculine characters can oppose law. Because she is an undesirable female, who doesnt follow the rules of womanhood, Anouilh resolves the presence of her character through an inevitable death, to emphasize his contempt with such women. Although male, Haemon portrays female characteristics, being over-emotional and rash, thus being incapable of fulfilling the idealistic male role. An example of Haemons lack of emotional control is present when he leaned on his sword and thrust it deeply home in his own side, and his sensitive, feminine side shows when he embraced the maid in loose-enfolding arms, his spurting blood staining her pale cheeks red (Sophocles, 159). Through this, he is automatically perceived as weak, since he cannot control his emotions and eventually takes his own life. Sophocles felt the need to show his disapproval towards such a cowardly, effeminate character by having him die through a violent suicide. Since the two characters diverged from their assigned gender laws, both playwrights bestowed the fate of death upon them, strongly emphasizing how wrong it is to reverse ones gender role.

The physical appearance of a person is highly valuable in society, and those in possession of one that is satisfying are given control over their lives as a reward for their beauty. Ismene is a very pretty girl, highly desirable by men, which means that she has social value. With this, she is granted power over her fate, and chooses to live. The Chorus introduces Ismene by her looks, saying Now look at [her]. She is certainly more beautiful than Antigone. She is the girl youd think [Haemon] would go for (Anouilh, 14). Through Ismene, Anouilh is portraying a woman that he finds desirable. Her good looks and appealing traits give her the power to make the choice to live when she could have easily perished alongside her unattractive sister. Although Eurydices physical appearance is not clearly described, it can be inferred that she is beautiful, since she is married to Creon, who has very strong opinions regarding femininity. Also, she is highly praised and therefore a woman who is very loved by her subjects. When breaking the news of Haemons death, the messenger says that Eurydice is too wise and that this wisdom will prevent her from taking a false step rashly (Sophocles, 159). Having had the respect of her subjects, Eurydice portrays the ideal image of a powerful woman. Sophocles expresses his satisfaction towards such a woman by giving her the opportunity to decide whether she wants to live or die, a choice she finalized with her suicide. Both Ismene and Eurydice were fine examples of what men seek in women. Their appearance and demeanour were both pleasing, and thus were given control over their own lives.

True beauty is a concept that is difficult to achieve, as everyone has different views on its meaning; however it seems that it is only valued when its too late for the possessor to get recognition for it. Antigone is seen as wrong and unreasonable, but only after she kills herself does she gain the respect and understanding of others. After her and Haemon perish, it is said that their bridal sleep [is] a witness to the world how great calamity can come to a man through mans perversity (Sophocles, 159). Her death becomes an eye-opener for the city of Thebes, as they recognize that she was right to oppose Creons law. Her death brought many others down with her, those who were innocent and died for her sake, which further goes to show that her life and death were significant. Having always been the less attractive sister, Antigone always felt inferior to Ismene. However, in Anouilhs play, it is evident that her strong personality made her the favourite. Ismene agrees with Anouilhs idea that Antigone is beautiful in a unique way, and she expresses this by saying Its always you the little boys turn to look back at when they pass us on the street. And when you go by the little girls stop talking and they stare and stare at you, until weve turned a corner (Anouilh, 25). Antigone herself failed to see how she was truly beautiful, though perhaps not externally, but everyone else did. Only shortly before her death did she realise that she was really loved for being herself. Both playwrights choose to express her true beauty through her death, labelling this specific female as a tragic beauty.

In conclusion, all the characters that failed to follow through with their assigned gender roles perished, and those that were good-looking and fulfilled their sex-based requirements were allowed to choose what they wanted to do with their life. Finally, those who had the strength to pursue their goal to the very end were truly beautiful. Both Haemon and Antigone toyed with characteristics of the opposing genders, which led to their suicides. Eurydice and Ismene were both royal and attractive, and thus given control over their fates. Antigone, having lived her whole life being viewed by society as ugly, became a beauty and a hero through her death and noble actions. Simply put, the authors imply that in order to survive in this cruel world, it is crucial to have good looks, and blend in to the social stereotypes to avoid a twisted fate.

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