Antigone
Writers often highlight the values of a culture or a society by using characters who are alienated from that culture or society because of gender, race, class or creed.


Choose a play in which such a character plays a significant role and show how that character’s alienation reveals the surrounding society’s assumptions and moral values.


Sophocles’ play, Antigone, is a tragedy that deals with the conflict between secular and divine law. The conflict is created when Creon, Antigone’s uncle, refuses to bury the body of Polyneices, Antigone’s brother. He claims that since Polyneices is a traitor toward the state, he is undeserving of a burial. Antigone insists that according to the laws of the gods, everyone is entitled to a proper burial and that it is the duty of the living to secure such a burial for the dead. Antigone rejects Creon’s order and buries Polyneices. Creon’s stubbornness and pride inevitably turns against him at the end. He does not agree to change his unjust law, and faces severe consequences: the death of his wife, son, niece, and his self-respect.


As a female character, Antigone becomes alienated from society, and her right to judge and make decisions is taken away merely because she is a woman. Creon’s position as an important political ruler allows him to shape and enforce the values of society toward the role of the ideal woman. His view of Antigone’s right to question his judgment is apparent when Creon states, “When I am alive no woman shall rule.” When he says this, Creon shows that he is not willing to accept any form of advice or counsel from a woman, since he considers the female gender inferior to his own. Not only does he reject women by his own remarks and actions, he also forces other men to comply with his values and alienate Antigone. For example, he calls Haemon (his son and Antigone’s future husband) a “woman’s slave” when Haemon tries to convince Creon that his decision is not a wise one. Creon’s attitude toward Antigone as a female is one of the reasons why he is stubborn about listening to her; Creon sends her to a cave, which isolates her from society both physically and mentally.


The assumptions toward the inferiority of the female are not only present in the ideals of men, but are accepted by women themselves. Women acknowledge the notion that they are made only to be obedient to men and to be ruled by the stronger sex. For example, when Antigone asks her sister, Ismene, to help her bury Polyneices, Ismene’s response is “…You ought to realize we are only women, not meant in nature to fight against men, and that we are ruled, by those who are stronger, to obedience in this and even more painful matters…” Because Ismene fails to help her with the burial, Antigone is forced to perform the ritual alone.


Of course, the fact that Antigone is very opinionated and completely goes against the laws of the land (which was considered as one of the worst offenses) is also a cause of her being pushed away from society. She believes in divine law, and fiercely argues that they are far more reliable than the king’s law, who is only a mortal. Of course, even though her creed is the reason she is put on trial in the first place, Antigone’s presumed role as a female affects the credibility of her argument.


By showing Creon and Ismene’s attitude toward the role of women, it is obvious that the society of the time considers women unsuitable for enforcing their moral values because they are considered weak and powerless. Creon is stubborn about his decision to bury Polyneices not only because of his moral and political values, but also because the person opposing his decision is a woman. He feels that he is lowering himself if he listens to Antigone’s opinion. Antigone is equally stubborn and hardheaded; she never lives up to her expectations as a submissive and obedient woman. Because of this, Antigone is a reject from society and her unjust alienation shows the flaws of her society.