Since so many people consider Ismene a coward, it is important to discuss why this view is not entirely accurate. Where Antigone searches for death and eagerly awaits for it to claim here, Ismene desires to live. Antigone comes to Ismene for assistance in burying their brother, Polynices, the penalty for which is death, and is shocked when Ismene refuses to participate in his burial. Ismene’s words, “You are so headstrong. Creon has forbidden it” (47) are taken by Antigone as signs of cowardice, and the reader is inclined to agree with the protagonist. Yet, it is rather remarkable that Ismene still has a will to live, especially when one considers all of which has transpired in her life. Much like the rest of the Theban royal house, Ismene is a tortured soul. From the moment of her birth, Ismene was cursed, being the daughter of an incestuous union. She watched as her entire house fell to ruin, each member of ...
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...ttempts to talk Antigone out of her plan to bury Polynices, foreseeing how poorly it will end, and when she fails, Ismene tries to advise her on how to get away without punishment: “Bury him in secret; I will be silent, too” (85). Although Antigone rebukes her advice, Ismene does not abandon her sister. When Creon orders Antigone’s death, Ismene laments, “What life is there for me, once I have lost you?” (558). Her dedication towards the last living member of her family appears to be her constant concern, making her just as loyal to family as Antigone.
Ismene’s character is incredibly human. She does not casually flaunt the laws of man, nor does she make any grand speeches on how she stands for divine justice. Instead, Ismene has the simple desire to live, despite her tortured life, and is guided by logic and an optimistic, if misguided, view on how others will act.
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