Challenges to Male Authority in Sophocles’ play, Antigone

Challenges to Male Authority in Sophocles’ play, Antigone

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Challenges to Male Authority in Sophocles’ play, Antigone


In the play Antigone by Sophocles, Creon and Antigone have distinct conflicting values.

Antigone first demonstrates feminist logic when she chooses to challenge a powerful male

establishment. This establishment is personified by her uncle Creon, who is newly crowned

as the King of Thebes. Creon poses to be a major authority figure in a patriarchal

society. Creon's regard for the laws of the city causes him to abandon all other beliefs.

He feels that all should obey the laws set forth by him, even if other beliefs, moral or

religious, state otherwise. Antigone, on the other hand, holds the beliefs of the gods in

high reverence. She feels that the laws of the gods should be obeyed above all others,

especially when in respect to family. The bold, tradition-braking character of Antigone

clearly clashed with the overpowering patriarchal dominance of Creon. This collision

between characters gives rise to the conflict between the sexes in Sophocles' Antigone.

The denial of burial to Polynices strikes directly at her family loyalty. This enormous

sense of loyalty leads to her simultaneous violation and observance to the duty of women

of the time. It is precisely this loyalty that makes her an active rather than a static

figure.



Antigone herself represents the highest ideals of human life -- courage and respect for

the gods. She believed that the law of the gods, which dictates that a body be given

proper burial rights, was more important than the law of the King. Throughout the play,

Antigone amazingly retains the traditional role of women, while at the same time boldly

challenges this depiction. The challenge occurs as both a defiance of Creon's laws in

Antigone's burying Polynices and as a direct verbal assault on Creon himself. Creon

becomes angry that a woman questions his sovereignty and condemns her to death even

though she was the daughter of his sister, Jocasta. Creon believes that if he does not

follow through on his word the people of Thebes will not respect his authority as king.

Thus Creon's patriotic values clash with Antigone's ethical values to make conflicting

roles.



Creon, being a new king, wants to prove his abilities as a firm and strong administrator.

Creon wants to be respected and feared as a king because this will prove him to be the

ultimate authorative figure in Thebes. He stands for obedience to the State. Surely it is

his voice the townspeople should obey. Creon abuses his power to force others to accept

his point of view.

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This extreme dominance conflicts head-on with Antigone's bold

unwomanly challenge to Creon's authority. Creon made many convictions insulting

womenkind. His convictions seemed true a large population of men. He uses her to set an

example for the entire city of Thebes, for Antigone is the first person to ever

deliberately disobey Creon's order not the bury her late brother, who has been declared a

traitor of the city. Imagine it: I caught her naked rebellion, /the traitor, the only one

in the whole city./ I'm not about to prove myself a liar,/ not to my people, no, I'm

going to kill her!( 94,ll.731-734). Creon refuses to compromise or humble himself before

others especially women. He states Better to fall from power, if fall we must,/at the

hands of a man-never to rated/ inferior to a woman, never (94, ll. 759-761 ). Antigone

does not give Creon additional respect either because he is a man in a patriarchal

society or because he is king. In such way, she argues an equality of the sexes, as well

as equality under God.



In the prologue, Antigone tells Ismene that she will take action pertaining to their

brother, whether or not Ismene agrees . Antigone, persuades her to help bury their

brother, He is my brother and-deny it as you will-/ your brother too(61, ll.55-56). The

two sisters argue, but in the end their differences in opinions stand out. Ismene being

too weak is afraid to defy the king. On the other hand, Antigone is brave enough to go

ahead with her decision. Even without her sister's help, she is willing to risk her life

to give her brother what he deserves and what the gods say should be done, despite

Creon's edict. Thus unlike her sister, Ismene refuses to challenge the male authority,

even if it means to not fulfill her duties as a sister. Ismene states: Remember we are

women,/ we're not born to contend with men. Then too,/ we're underlings, ruled by much

stronger hands,/ so we must submit in this, and things still worse (62, ll. 74-77). These

words stated by Ismene, express her extreme fear for and subordination to man. Her view

of the inferiority to men came from the many laws restricting the lives of women. After

Antigone carries out the deed, Ismene now feels responsible to die with Antigone. This

sense of responsibility is probably the result of Antigone's earlier pleas for help and

Ismene's fear of being without any family.



When speaking to his son, Haemon, about his fiancee's act, Creon strongly emphasizes the

important relationship and obligation of a man to his father rather than to his wife.

Moreover, he emphasizes the importance of males in decision making by stating, " Oh

Haemon, never loose your sense of judgement over a woman" (93, l.723). Haemon's defiance

to his father lead Creon to proclaim him a woman's slave, a man who is unfortunately

sided with a woman. According to Creon, this act was close to committing a sin. Had

Antigone been born the son of Oedipus, rather than his daughter, it would not be his

place to decide, as his crown would rest upon Antigone's head. And even if Creon were

king, and Antigone a male, her opinion on the matter of Polynices' burial would likely

have been taken more into his consideration. Antigone's gender made her situation even

more difficult than it already was, as the King totally disregarded Antigone's judgement

over the matter.



In conclusion, Antigone in Sopocles's Antigone demonstrates feminist thoughts in several

ways. She first challenges a powerful male establishment headed by her own uncle. Creon

is devoted to his laws, while Antigone is loyal to her beliefs. Antigone as a woman

acting out of obligation and duty, to the gods, her family and her conscience is the

exemplum for her society. Antigone did not run from her death sentence suggest an

inherent bravery and obstinacy which the chorus recognizes before her departure to her

death. Her legacy will live on, and inspire many other rebels to stand up for their

beliefs. Antigone's strong feminist stance in defying a patriarchal tyrant shows how

individualistic ideas and actions can be very effectual.


Works cited :

- Sophocles, Antigone. The Three Theban Plays. Trans. Robert Fagles.

New York. Penguin Group. 1982. 58-128.
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