’s Antigone Essay, Research Paper
Although Sophocles’ epic story of the life of King Oedipus is widely considered a great dramatic tragedy, the last of the three plays, Antigone, deviates from the first two stories. In Sophocles’ other two plays, Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus, we see the misfortunes and then redemption of Oedipus. He is a king who unwillingly and unknowingly breaks the law of the land and the law of civilized humanity by killing his father and marrying his mother, then punishing himself for his actions. The final play in the set, however, revolves around the struggles of Oedipus’ daughter Antigone. As a play, Antigone has elements of both tragedy and victory, yet ultimately I believe that it should be seen as a great victory for humanity. To keep honor in her family, Antigone’s goes against a law she feels is unjust, and that decision is punished by her death. Her compassion and bravery are qualities that are present in every human being, but they are sometimes suppressed for the purpose of self-preservation.
When one of Antigone’s brothers, Polynices, dies during his raid on the city of Thebes, the reigning king, Creon, demands that the body of Polynices be left on the battle field without mourning or proper burial because of his treacherous actions. But Antigone cannot allow this to happen. Although she realizes what her brother did was wrong, her conscience prevents her from allowing him to lie dead in dishonor and shame. Polynices never did anything to help Antigone or her sister Ismene, yet her sense of sisterly duty transgresses her sense of duty for her king. “I will bury my brother; and if I die for it, what happiness! Convicted of reverence—I shall be content to lie beside a brother whom I love” (128).
That love for her brother stays with her throughout her entire ordeal. To Antigone, she has done the only right thing possible by burying her brother, and when confronted by Creon, she holds her judgement supreme over his in the matter. “I did not think your edicts strong enough to overrule the unwritten unalterable laws of God and heaven, you being only a man” (138). Her direct challenge to Creon’s authority makes him very angry, not only because his law has been disobeyed, but because he sees that Antigone possesses a great deal of pride, just as he does, but also a higher sense of worth for fellow humans, something that he does not have. She has hurt his pride in himself and his authority, therefore Creon must execute her so that he can show to the public that his laws are not to be broken and that he himself is not to be crossed under any circumstances.
It is evident that Antigone must cross Creon because of her personal beliefs. To her, it is better to be put to death herself rather than see her brother’s death in dishonor and shame. “My heart was long since dead, so it was right for me to help the dead” (141). The death of her brother had already left a deep emotional scar, and there was nothing left for Antigone but her own health and her sisters. Because Antigone clings to the love for her dead father and brothers, she feels that she must pay them homage by doing them honor that extends past their life, preserving what was left of a dwindling family dignity.
Antigone’s courage comes from her belief that the Gods are the highest authority, and she will be judged in the afterlife by the good deed she has done for her brother in her present life. Her strong sense of morality allows her to overcome the obstacle that Creon sets for her, yet should she have rebelled against a law that was meant for the good of the city and its people?
Perhaps by letting her brother’s body rot on a field, she would have brought satisfaction to King Creon, whose pompous authority would have been strengthened. The public, however, was with Antigone is her decision to bury the body. Yet the fact remains that no one else would act as she did because they held their own lives first and foremost before the life of another. Antigone alone had the compassion and courage to do what she felt was right, and did not even question whether it was right or wrong.
Authority sets rules and laws, and the human authority in Antigone’s life was Creon. Without his rules, there would be chaos in the city, because laws are necessary to maintain order. Yet, Antigone chose to break a law that she felt was an unwritten one, not a law of human authority, but a law set by a higher power and authority. Because of her belief in something beyond herself, her conscience took precedence over everything in her life. She followed the laws of the land because it was her duty as a citizen and person to keep order and benefit her society, yet it was also her duty as a human being to follow a law that would maintain humanity in the world. Is it not one’s duty to perpetuate the existence of love and compassion in the world just as much as it is necessary to cling to the laws that give us structure to our lives?
The structure that law give us in turn allow people to live humanely, to live in a world in which killing is forbidden, and aiding a person in need is necessary. If this is true, then Antigone made the right decision when she buried her brother. She followed the laws of her city, as a person should, yet when a law she deemed unjust and lacking in humanity was presented, she broke it for the good of that humanity which she so dearly cherished. Antigone’s seeming defiance of the law and authority was actually her way of preserving a law, one that wasn’t a tangible human law, rather one that came from a higher sense of self and from her faith in something greater than herself.
Creon’s need to preserve his pride and the honor of his kingdom was a misguided attempt to assert his authority. He failed to see that his authority was limited because he was only a man, not a god. Although laws should be followed, who is to say that every law or rule is right? Having a sense of what is “right” is more of a social aspect rather than an individual one. All people abide by a set of laws specific to their culture, and anyone who breaks those laws is a traitor. Because a person’s adherence to a rule depends on his or her personal truths, most people hold the same truths, but sometimes have different ways of carrying out what they hold to be true. Although most of the public agreed with Antigone’s decision to bury her brother, they did not carry out this value because of their need for self-preservation. Antigone dared to uphold her personal honor and that of her family and therefore deviated from the norm of self-preservation.
A human being who has faith in a cause would rather follow his or her own idea of supreme authority rather than be subject to the will of another human being. Antigone had certain unalterable truths and values that she abided by, and those strong convictions were greater than her respect for Creon, or the value of her own life.
Creon’s stubborn mistake in condemning Antigone to death results in the loss of his own wife and son. It is only then that he learns the folly in his bitter pride and authority struggle. Throughout the play Creon believes that “he whom the State appoints must be obeyed to the smallest matter, be it right—or wrong” (144). In Creon’s view, there is no room for diversion from his laws. Everything he declares must be followed through with to the very last detail, and there is no questioning his authority, no matter how unjust it may seem. That overbearing pride and austerity is what costs him his happiness.
The play Antigone cannot therefore be called a tragedy, simply because its main character brings such nobility to the story. She is willing to die for something she intrinsically knows is wrong, a belief that is part of her essence as a human being. Many of the characters die in Antigone, yet they each die for noble causes. Antigone dies for the honor of her brother. Her lover Haemon, son of Creon, dies for love of her. His mother, wife of Creon, dies for love of her son. The perpetual theme of death for love and honor is a poignant part of the play as a whole. The qualities of compassion and love pervade over pride, another strong human emotion. All these qualities are part of a human being’s essence, yet love takes priority over all and is stronger than death. Antigone resolves not to give in to regret and humiliation, but to transcend law with her undying love.
Perhaps laws are essential for the existence of humanity because they provide a necessary structure and function to our daily life, yet the unwritten laws of humanity, the truths and values that an individual holds onto, sometimes prove stronger than any written human law. Laws are not always right, yet most people will follow them to preserve their lives, or their dignity, but that dignity only goes as far as how others will view them, because there cannot be true dignity in an individual who does not practice what he or she believes. When there is such a strong contradiction between written law and conscience, there is always someone who will follow his or her heart.