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Issue of male authority and challenges to that authority in the play "Antigone".

In the play "Antigone" by Sophocles, Creon and Antigone have distinct

conflicting values. Antigone first demonstrates feminist logic when she chooses

to challenge a powerful male establishment. This establishment is personified by

her uncle Creon, who is newly crowned as the King of Thebes. Creon poses to be a

major authority figure in a patriarchal society. Creon’s regard for the laws of

the city causes him to abandon all other beliefs. He feels that all should obey

the laws set forth by him, even if other beliefs, moral or religious, state

otherwise. Antigone, on the other hand, holds the beliefs of the gods in high

reverence. She feels that the laws of the gods should be obeyed above all

others, especially when in respect to family. The bold, tradition-braking

character of Antigone clearly clashed with the overpowering patriarchal

dominance of Creon. This collision between characters gives rise to the conflict

between the sexes in Sophocles’ "Antigone." The denial of burial to

Polynices strikes directly at her family loyalty. This enormous sense of loyalty

leads to her simultaneous violation and observance to the duty of women of the

time. It is precisely this loyalty that makes her an active rather than a static

figure. Antigone herself represents the highest ideals of human life — courage

and respect for the gods. She believed that the law of the gods, which dictates

that a body be given proper burial rights, was more important than the law of

the King. Throughout the play, Antigone amazingly retains the traditional role

of women, while at the same time boldly challenges this depiction. The challenge

occurs as both a defiance of Creon’s laws in Antigone’s burying Polynices and as

a direct verbal assault on Creon himself. Creon becomes angry that a woman

questions his sovereignty and condemns her to death even though she was the

daughter of his sister, Jocasta. Creon believes that if he does not follow

through on his word the people of Thebes will not respect his authority as king.

Thus Creon?s patriotic values clash with Antigone?s ethical values to make

conflicting roles. Creon, being a new king, wants to prove his abilities as a

firm and strong administrator. Creon wants to be respected and feared as a king

because this will prove him to be the ultimate authorative figure in Thebes. He

stands for obedience to the State. Surely it is his voice the townspeople should

obey. Creon abuses his power to force others to accept his point of view. This

extreme dominance conflicts head-on with Antigone’s bold unwomanly challenge to

Creon’s authority. Creon made many convictions insulting womenkind. His

convictions seemed true a large population of men. He uses her to set an example

for the entire city of Thebes, for Antigone is the first person to ever

deliberately disobey Creon’s order not the bury her late brother, who has been

declared a traitor of the city. "Imagine it: I caught her naked rebellion,

/the traitor, the only one in the whole city./ I’m not about to prove myself a

liar,/ not to my people, no, I’m going to kill her!"( 94,ll.731-734). Creon

refuses to compromise or humble himself before others especially women. He

states " Better to fall from power, if fall we must,/at the hands of a

man-never to rated/ inferior to a woman, never" (94, ll. 759-761 ).

Antigone does not give Creon additional respect either because he is a man in a

patriarchal society or because he is king. In such way, she argues an equality

of the sexes, as well as equality under God. In the prologue, Antigone tells

Ismene that she will take action pertaining to their brother, whether or not

Ismene agrees . Antigone, persuades her to help bury their brother, "He is

my brother and-deny it as you will-/ your brother too(61, ll.55-56)." The

two sisters argue, but in the end their differences in opinions stand out.

Ismene being too weak is afraid to defy the king. On the other hand, Antigone is

brave enough to go ahead with her decision. Even without her sister’s help, she

is willing to risk her life to give her brother what he deserves and what the

gods say should be done, despite Creon’s edict. Thus unlike her sister, Ismene

refuses to challenge the male authority, even if it means to not fulfill her

duties as a sister. Ismene states: "Remember we are women,/ we’re not born

to contend with men. Then too,/ we’re underlings, ruled by much stronger hands,/

so we must submit in this, and things still worse" (62, ll. 74-77). These

words stated by Ismene, express her extreme fear for and subordination to man.

Her view of the inferiority to men came from the many laws restricting the lives

of women. After Antigone carries out the deed, Ismene now feels responsible to

die with Antigone. This sense of responsibility is probably the result of

Antigone’s earlier pleas for help and Ismene’s fear of being without any family.

When speaking to his son, Haemon, about his fianc?e’s act, Creon strongly

emphasizes the important relationship and obligation of a man to his father

rather than to his wife. Moreover, he emphasizes the importance of males in

decision making by stating, ? Oh Haemon, never loose your sense of judgement

over a woman? (93, l.723). Haemon’s defiance to his father lead Creon to

proclaim him a "woman’s slave," a man who is unfortunately sided with

a woman. According to Creon, this act was close to committing a sin. Had

Antigone been born the son of Oedipus, rather than his daughter, it would not be

his place to decide, as his crown would rest upon Antigone’s head. And even if

Creon were king, and Antigone a male, her opinion on the matter of Polynices’

burial would likely have been taken more into his consideration. Antigone’s

gender made her situation even more difficult than it already was, as the King

totally disregarded Antigone’s judgement over the matter. In conclusion,

Antigone in Sopocles’s Antigone demonstrates feminist thoughts in several ways.

She first challenges a powerful male establishment headed by her own uncle.

Creon is devoted to his laws, while Antigone is loyal to her beliefs. Antigone

as a woman acting out of obligation and duty, to the gods, her family and her

conscience is the exemplum for her society. Antigone did not run from her death

sentence suggest an inherent bravery and obstinacy which the chorus recognizes

before her departure to her death. Her legacy will live on, and inspire many

other rebels to stand up for their beliefs. Antigone’s strong feminist stance in

defying a patriarchal tyrant shows how individualistic ideas and actions can be

very effectual.

Sophocles, "Antigone". The Three Theban Plays. Trans. Robert Fagles.

New York. Penguin Group. 1982. 58-128.


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