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Nikki Rose L. Lawson

What social and religious values are in conflict in this play and which of the main characters holds which of these values?

            The position of women in the Greek society is an essential theme of the play, Antigone.  The freedom of women during this period was very limited, and they were expected to submit selflessly to the rules laid before them.

            However, there is a significant difference between the personalities of Antigone and Ismene when it comes to upholding this situation.  Upon knowing the royal decree declared by Kreon, that Eteocles will be buried with all the rites and honors, while Polynieces’ body will be left to rot, Antigone was decided not to let this happen to her dead brother.  As a matter of fact, she sought Ismene’s help in burying Polynieces, “…I wanted you to come out with me.  There is something we must do.”  This behavior of impassiveness was a contradiction to her very own culture, which considers women inferior, as Kreon will later say, “If we must lose, let’s lose to a man, at least!  Is a woman stronger than we?”  On the other hand, although Ismene felt sorry for her brother, Polynieces, she will not disobey her king.  Her sense of powerlessness and submissiveness were very much manifested in the first part of the play, while arguing with Antigone, “Our own death would be if we should go against Kreon and do what he has forbidden!  We are only women, and we cannot fight with men, Antigone!”  It also seemed that her gender has everything to do with her belief in her own powerlessness as she reasoned out that it is their gender that makes them unable to do anything.  Ismene is a good example of a person who has an external locus of control, because she cannot assume her fate into her own hands.       

            Another important theme of this play is the concept of pride, which is different from the Christian’s perspective.  The Greeks consider pride as part of greatness while Christian believers see pride in contrast to Christ’s virtue of humility, and in fact, is considered one of the seven deadly sins.  In this play, pride symbolizes strength of character, which comes with dignity and determination.  However, it also meant stubbornness and blindness.

            Both Antigone and Kreon were proud people.  Antigone’s pride was manifested by her unwillingness to obey the king’s decree, which is considered the laws of man,  “I will bury him; and if I must die, I say that this crime is holy: I shall be as dear to him as he is to me.  It is the dead, not the living, who make the longest demands.”  A possible explanation I can think of for Antigone’s stubbornness is based on the priorities she has set forth.  She deemed the divine laws as more important than the human laws, making them defenses of her actions as she reasoned out to Ismene, “…You may do as you like.  Since apparently, the laws of the gods mean nothing to you.”  I can also consider this as one of the major conflicts (divine laws versus human laws) in this tragedy, only that the importance of the next world outweighs the importance of human laws, which were then believed to have been established for the public good. 

            Kreon’s pride was also marked by stubbornness in several instances.  It was harder for him to yield because aside from the fact that he was the king, “Do you want me to show myself weak before the people?”, he has to yield to a woman, “When I am alive, no woman shall rule.”  For Kreon, to yield is to show weakness, or even to show poor leadership skills.  Since he is the king, he firmly believed that his words must be strictly obeyed, and his words must remain as hard as solid rock, “Whoever is chosen to govern should be obeyed, must be obeyed in all things, great and small, just and unjust.”  Kreon’s proud nature was also greatly manifested with his argument with Haimon when he spoke to Choragos, “You consider it right for a man of my years and experience to go to school to a boy?”  He is apparently blinded and would not consider a younger man’s thoughts because he believed that he is wiser because he is older.  Nonetheless, I don’t think he is unaware of his true character as he later on mentioned towards the end of the story that it is worse to risk everything for stubborn pride. 

            I think Kreon has good intentions for his people, but he doesn’t uphold the correct set of values.  Unlike Antigone, he deemed patriotism and civil obedience (human laws) as most important, failing to consider other aspects of justice.  He is so confined with the set of rules and regulations that men established that he didn’t deliberate on other areas such as divine laws and conscience.

            The Choragos said at the end of the story, “…. No wisdom but in submission to the gods….”  Does this pose an implication that Antigone’s behavior is more heroic? She disobeyed the state but has shown love for her brother and has acted out of faith.  This play demonstrated that there are laws more powerful than any social or human law that we may have.  It reminded the audience that although there are rules to live by, there’s a conscience to live with. 

(This commentary was posted in March, 2005, with the permission of the student who wrote it.)

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