An Analysis of Things Fall Apart and Antigone
Behind every great person in life, there lies a person who assisted them in achieving their greatness. In the novels Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Antigone by Sophocles, this idea is portrayed perfectly. The way that Achebe developed Ezinma throughout the novel, I believe, is what was used to show readers the softer and gentler side of Okonkwo. In conjunction with that, Sophocles used Ismene to be the more tame and obedient side of Antigone.
Through the descriptions and ways that these two female characters affect the main characters in each of these novels, Ezinma from Things Fall Apart and Ismene from Antigone, it is apparent that they both value their families, but Ismene would choose the law over her family while Ezinma would stay loyal. From what the authors have revealed, the love and appreciation for their families is highly important to Ezinma and Ismene. With Ismene, Sophocles displays her loyalty to her family when he writes of Ismene attempting to die alongside Antigone.
During the conversation between Ismene and her sister, Ismene practically begs her sister to allow her to die: Ismene: I did it, if she will allow it. I am her partner. I share the blame. Antigone: Justice will say no. You had no desire to be my partner. Nor did I allow it. Ismene: The journey with you into pain is what I long for. Antigone: Death and the dead know who did this. I cannot love someone whose love is mere words. Ismene: Sister, don’t deprive me of honor. Honor for me is to die with you, bringing glory to the dead. Sophocles, 29) Sophocles also adds the scene at the beginning of the novel where Ismene is trying to warn Antigone about burying Polyneices. She reminds her that if Antigone breaks the law, they will both “die a painful death” and making a “wild and futile” choice wouldn’t make any sense (Sophocles, 13). Sophocles added this particular part to this scene to, not only, demonstrate Antigone’s stubbornness, but to also show that Ismene is so loyal to her family that she would give up her life. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe exhibits Ezinma’s loyalty through Okonkwo.
Achebe writes that out of all Okonkwo’s children, Ezinma “understood his every mood” and that a “bond of sympathy” had developed between the two (Achebe, 172). Through Ismene’s long for her sister’s life and Ezinma’s relationship with her father, a connection was made between these two girls in order to show how much they care for their families. Although Sophocles portrayed the idea that Ismene loves her family, one must also acknowledge the idea that Ismene refused to commit a crime for the sole purpose of burying her brother. First, when Antigone introduces the idea of breaking the law, Ismene immediately refuses.
She reacts by saying that “the law forbids” the burial of Polyneices (Sophocles, 12). Next, Ismene reminds Antigone that the law may be cruel, but “it must be obeyed” because they “are women” and the “law belongs to men” (Sophocles, 13). Finally, Ismene also defends herself when Antigone accuses her of dishonoring the gods for not wanting to help bury their brother. Ismene replies by saying that she “will dishonor no one,” but she “cannot resist the rule of law” (Sophocles, 14). Sophocles exposed where Ismene’s true loyalty relies: with the law, and not with her family.
In Things Fall Apart, Ezinma is designed to be her father’s favorite and most prized child due to her unconditional love and respect for her father. As Achebe had already demonstrated in the novel, there were many customs in the Nigerian society. One was the respect for the high priestess of the village. A villager did not challenge her words because her words were that of the gods. But, Ezinma resisted the priestess when she came to take her away. Achebe wrote that Ezinma was “crying loudly, calling on her mother” (Achebe, 102).
This shows that she cares for her mother and trusts her enough to want to stay with her instead of going with the priestess. Another tradition in the villages was for the daughter to choose a suitor whom she thought would be best for her and would make her father happy. As for Ezinma, she preferred pleasing her father over anything else. So, when Okonkwo mentioned that he would “be happy” if she married when they returned home to Umuofia, Ezinma “had seen clearly all the thought and hidden meaning behind the few words” and she agreed to follow her father’s request (Achebe, 173).
This is significant because there was no law or custom that said that she had to listen to her father, because she was a grown woman. Finally, Achebe entered a very subtle scene close to the beginning of the book that was quite significant to this idea that Ezinma honored her family. When she was bringing her father food, Ezinma asked him if she could bring his chair to the wrestling match in the village, to which he replied that it was “a boy’s job” ( Achebe, 44).
This reveals that Ezinma would go out of the norms to be close to her father and to please him. Through elusive yet significant ways, Achebe eased Ezinma’s loyalty to her family and, most importantly, her father into the novel’s timeline. Although Achebe and Sophocles did not put these two characters into a spotlight, they still contributed to the novels behind the scenes. These novels used the ways that other characters reacted to Ismene and Ezinma to have them act as puppets for other characters.
Ismene acted as Antigone’s conscious throughout the novel, while Ezinma acted as Okonkwo’s escape from the reality of having a non-manly first born son. The significance that these two others have revealed is that every aspect of a piece of literature is important. There is always a reason that the author incorporated a new character or added in a scene that the reader may otherwise think as random. In conclusion, Achebe and Sophocles both publicized the significance of taking every aspect of a novel into consideration through their characters, Ismene and Antigone.