Antigone: Literary Analysis
|Topics:||Antigone, Ancient Greece, Greek Mythology, 📗 Book|
Table of Contents
Antigone is one of the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles’ creative works. The play recounts the struggles of Antigone, a fictional female character who rebels against the city of Thebes’ norms to bury her brother, Polynices, who died in a civil war. It is a thought-provoking piece that has stood the test of time as a classic Greek tragedy. Sophocles’ choice of characterization and exploration of complex and timeless themes, such as the conflict between individual conscience and state laws, weave seamlessly to create an enduring and thought-provoking literary piece.
A dominant feature of the play is the strength of its characterization. The characters are well-developed and nuanced, and their motivations, desires, and actions fluidly drive the action of the play. The protagonist, Antigone, is a powerful character. She is a young woman driven by a strong sense of duty and moral conviction, and she is willing to risk everything, even her own life, to fulfill her duty to bury her brother, Polynices (DeWitt, 1917). Hers is a complex and compelling personality imbued by both bravery and vulnerability, particularly evident in the struggle to balance her sense of duty with the laws of the state and the inner self. Creon, the leader of Thebes, is an equally well-developed and nuanced character. He is a man torn between the desire to uphold the laws of the state and his sense of justice (Koulouris, 2018). He is convinced that Antigone must be punished for disobeying the laws, but he is also troubled by the consequences of his actions and their impact on others. These characters reflect Sophocles’ unmatched creativity in building all-rounded characters.
DeWitt (1917) also summarizes the various ways in which the other characters in the play, including Ismene, Haemon, and Tiresias, are also well-written and contribute to the depth and richness of the play. Ismene, Antigone’s sister, is a loyal and devoted companion who stands by her sister even though she does not fully agree with her actions. Haemon, Creon’s son, is a young man torn between his loyalty to his father and his sense of justice. Finally, Tiresias, the blind prophet, is a wise and compassionate character who tries to persuade Creon to change his mind but is ultimately ignored. Not only does the excellent characterization convey the themes and messages of a play in a more effective and meaningful way, but the characters’ depth, complexity, and individuality also make the piece more believable and relatable.
As a central theme in the play, the conflict between individual conscience and the laws of the state is a testament to the relevance of the creative power of Sophocles to life in real societies. This conflict is exemplified in the confrontation between the play’s protagonist, Antigone, and the leader of Thebes, Creon (Mambrol, 2020). Antigone believes that she must bury her brother, Polynices, who has been killed in a civil war, even though it is against the laws of Thebes to do so. She is willing to risk everything, even her own life, to fulfill this duty, which she sees as a moral obligation. In contrast, Creon believes that Antigone must be punished for disobeying the laws of the state (Mambrol, 2020). He sees her actions as a threat to the stability of Thebes and is determined to enforce the laws at all costs.
This friction represents the broader conflict between individual conscience and the laws of the state that has been a central theme in many works of literature and philosophy. In Staehler’s (2007) opinion, the laws of the state are necessary for maintaining order and stability in society. However, they are inflexible and do not consider individual circumstances or moral considerations. The inflexibility of the laws of the state makes it possible for them to be wielded as tools of oppression against citizens who dissent from unorthodox conventions (Staehler, 2007). Regardless, individual conscience emerges as a powerful force that can drive people to act in ways that are not always consistent with the laws of the state. Then, morality becomes strong enough to subdue the precedence of the state’s laws, mainly when those are used to exert control and enforce undue conformity.
Critics have always interpreted this theme in diverse ways. One author has argued that Antigone represents the ultimate tragic hero, a person driven by a sense of duty and moral conviction, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles (Koulouris, 2018). Others, such as DeHart (2006) and Van den Berge (2017), have seen her as a symbol of resistance against oppressive authority, a figure who stands up for what she believes in despite the consequences. Specifically, Antigone is a tragic victim who is caught in the crossfire of larger forces and ultimately pays the price for her actions (Van den Berge, 2017).
In conclusion, Antigone is an interesting play that continues to resonate with audiences and readers to this day. Its exploration of complex and timeless themes, such as the conflict between individual conscience and the state’s laws in the context of the corrupting allure of power, makes it an engaging work worth studying and interpreting. Moreover, the strength of its characterization and the effective portrayal of its themes all contribute to its enduring appeal and make it a classic work of Greek tragedy.
- DeHart, P. R. (2006). The dangerous life: Natural justice and the rightful subversion of the state. Polity, 38(3), 369-394. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3877072
- DeWitt, N. W. (1917). Character and plot in “Antigone.” The Classical Journal, 12(6), 393-396. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3288383#metadata_info_tab_contents
- Koulouris, T. (2018). Neither sensible nor moderate: revisiting Antigone. Humanities, 7(2), 60. https://doi.org/10.3390/h7020060
- Mambrol, N. (2020, July 29). Analysis of Sophocles’ Antigone. Literary Theory and Criticism. https://literariness.org/2020/07/29/analysis-of-sophocles-antigone/
- Staehler, T. (2007). Antigone and the nature of law, In Freeman, M. & Harrison, R. (eds.) Law and philosophy. Pp. 137-156. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199237159.003.0008
- Van den Berge, L. (2017). Sophocles’ Antigone and the promise of ethical life: tragic ambiguity and the pathologies of reason. Law and Humanities, 11(2), 205-227. https://doi.org/10.1080/17521483.2017.1362180