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 fiancée'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
Sophocles, "Antigone". The Three Theban Plays. Trans. Robert Fagles.
New York. Penguin Group. 1982. 58-128.