The Civil Disobedience of Antigone and the Teachings of Martin Luther King Jr.

The Civil Disobedience of Antigone and the Teachings of Martin Luther King Jr.

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From the monarchs of the ancient era to the democracy of today, order has been maintained by means of rules and regulations known as laws. Compliance with these laws is enforced through punishments ranging in severity according to the crimes committed to reduce violence and misconduct from individuals within a society. However, just as citizens consent to abide by the laws of the state in which they reside, one is compelled to preserve justice and condemn the unjust decisions of man when the social contract contradicts the laws sanctioned by God. Approaching this conflict between natural and manmade laws in a non-violent manner is called “civil disobedience”.
One of the most well known activists of civil disobedience was Martin Luther King Jr. during the American civil rights movement of the 1960s. King’s theory of a non-violent approach to injustices consisted of a process that promoted dialogue of a peaceful nature in order to gain understanding while reconciling differences. Nevertheless, when the laws made by man attempted to negate the laws of God, King urged people to use creative tension in the form of civil disobedience to establish awareness that injustice existed. Within this philosophical and political concept, it would seem that Antigone from Sophocles’ Antigone participated in an act of “civil disobedience” that King would have praised due to her dedication to uphold justice at the cost of her own life. However, closer examination of Antigone’s actions and conduct reveal that although she participated in an act of insubordination to promote justice for her departed brother, her failure to promote negotiation and accept her punishment freely were not considered a part of King’s theory of civil disobedience.
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And if my present actions strike you as foolish,
Let’s just say I’ve been accused of folly
by a fool. (ll.519-525)
Within these lines, Antigone reveals that she holds herself sanctimonious over her king by admitting his punishment is “nothing” compared to the “agony” she will face if she leaves her brother unburied. She also conveys a nonchalant attitude towards the repercussions of her action when she mocks Creon accusing him of being a “fool.” Although Antigone is aware that others such as her sister, Ismene and her fiancée, Haemon—the son of Creon, may suffer because of her act of civil disobedience, she is unwilling to abandon her protest to negotiate in a peaceful manner. This conduct implies that she does not completely comprehend the seriousness of her action or understand the weight of her crime rendering her approach inconsistent with King’s theory.

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