In ancient Greece there were roles assigned to each person based on gender and age which they were required to complete. As both Ismene and Antigone are women they must conform to certain expectations placed on them by society. However, they do so in starkly different ways.
Their role as women can be seen when Creon issues the decree to prohibit Polynices’s burial. Antigone sees this decree as going directly against her role as a woman because in ancient Greece it was seen as the women’s job to bury the dead in order to honour the gods. This causes a conflict to emerge between Ismene and Antigone in which Antigone replies that “if [Ismene] will not [bury him, Antigone] will not prove disloyal,” (Sophocles 2) to both her brother and the gods. By going against Creon’s order she is merely fulfilling her duties as a woman. When Antigone presents her plan to Ismene she reacts with cowardice – she wants to bury Polynices as well but cannot overlook the fact that it would be a direct act of defiance against her uncle Creon who is both a man and ...
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... and serve the gods.
Antigone laments that her brother must die so young and thus, does everything in her power to honour him one last time for the gods. By burying her brother she is praised by the chorus and told that she will “enter the life of a man without unhappiness,” (Sophocles 24). Her sister on the other hand is ignored even by Creon whom she had obeyed. Sophocles is thus conveying that by obeying the gods it will offer one many more heavenly rewards.
Throughout the play Sophocles clearly demonstrates through the use of Antigone and Ismene as foils the power divine rule has over man’s rule. Antigone is exonerated even in death whereas Ismene is forced to live out a lonely and isolated existence. Antigone, representing divine law serves as Sophocles message to all those in ancient Greece of the reward they will receive should they choose to obey the gods.
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