Antigone & Ismene in Sophocles' Antigone

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Antigone & Ismene

The personalities of the two sisters; Antigone and Ismene, are as

different from one another as night and day. Antigone acts as a free spirit,

a defiant individual, while Ismene is content to recognize her limitations

as a woman in a male dominated society.

In the Greek tragedy "Antigone", by Sophocles; Antigone learns

that King Creon has refused to give a proper burial for the slain

Polyneices, brother of Ismene and Antigone. Infuriated by this injustice,

Antigone shares the tragic news with Ismene. From her first response, "No,

I have heard nothing"(344). Ismene reveals her passivity and helplessness

in the light of Creon's decree. Thus, from the start, Ismene is

characterized as traditionally "feminine", a helpless woman that pays no

mind to political affairs. Doubting the wisdom of her sisters plan to

break the law and bury Polyneices, Ismene argues:

We who are women should not contend with men;

we who are weak are ruled by the stronger, so that

we must obey....(346)

Once again Ismene's words clearly state her weak, feminine character and

helplessness within her own dimensions. Antigone, not happy with her

sisters response chides her sister for not participating in her crime and

for her passivity, saying, " Set your own life in order"(346). For

Antigone, no law could stand in the way of her strong consideration of her

brother's spirit, not even the punishment of an early death. Ismene is

more practical ; knowing the task is impossible, she feels the situation

to be hopeless.

It is a wonder, which of the two sisters are really guilty of these

chronic charges. Of coarse, Antigone acted so quickly, and failed to take

the advice of the moderate sister, Ismene. Instead, going against Creon's

words, Antigone rashly goes ahead and breaks the law. Antigone is a fool,

she must learn that such defiance, even when justified, is not conductive

to longevity. Although Antigone is foolish, she is also courageous and

motivated by her morals. Proper burial of the dead was, according to the

Greeks, prerequisite for the souls entrance into a permanent home.

Therefore, perhaps Ismene is also foolish for her quick refusal to help

Antigone perform the duty of Polyneices proper burial. Ismene definitely

seems hasty in her acceptance of personal weakness. Perhaps in some way,

both sisters are guilty of the same tragic sins. Perhaps it is this

rashness, more subdued in Ismene's case, that leads both sisters to their

own destruction.

To my surprise, there is a strange twist in both sister's character

towards the end of the play. Antigone makes a rather contrasting
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