Antigone: Conformity and Nonconformity
Sophocles’ Antigone presents Oedipus’ daughters Antigone and Ismene as a non-conformist and a conformist. In postwar Thebes, Antigone must persuade Ismene to help bury their brother Polyneices, who is branded a traitor by the new king Creon. In a new decree Creon states that he will not give any traitors a proper burial. Antigone’s indignation over Creon’s decree makes her the non-conformist. Because of her loyalty to her brother she wants to “bury him” even though, as Ismene points out, “the new law forbids it. Ismene’s choice to obey the unjust decree makes her the conformist. Ismene believes that they should just “give into the law” because “the law is strong. ” Antigone disobeys out of loyalty to her brother even though she knows she will be punished for her non-conformity. Ismene is a coward and even though she conforms in the beginning, it does not stop Creon from making her guilty by association. In Antigone, both Antigone and Haemon commit suicide. Like her mother Antigone hangs herself, and at the sight of her body Haemon plunges a sword into himself.
The pain that they both felt stemmed from Creon’s stubbornness and pride. The Messenger tells the Choragus that Haemon was “driven mad by the murder his father had done” referring to the imprisonment and death of Antigone. Enclosing Antigone alive in a tomb was intended to kill her. The Choragus and the Messenger blame Creon for the deaths of Antigone and Haemon because Creon would not listen to reason from Teiresias. Teiresias tells Creon that by putting Antigone in “a grave before her death” he has incurred the wrath or the gods and “curses will be hurled” at him.
By directly causing Antigone to end her life the gods punished him by taking away his son, and eventually wife, in the same manner. Creon’s refusal to bury Polyneices and the harsh punishment of Antigone are partly vengeance against their father Oedipus. The Choragus compares Oedipus and Antigone as “both headstrong, deaf to reason. ” Creon still harbors resentment at Oedipus’ insolence as cursed Thebes. Oedipus greatly disrespected Creon and exiling Oedipus was not enough for Creon.
Creon enjoyed humiliating Oedipus and now enjoys humiliating Antigone, which is why he will not back down even when he is warned by Teiresias. Embarrassed at the way Oedipus dismissed him as a traitor, Creon now has the satisfaction of not burying one of Oedipus’ children and imprisoning the other. Antigone also realizes that the “blasphemy” of how she was conceived curses her and their family. Creon’s vengeance against Oedipus is a character foil that curses Creon’s family. Not only is Creon bias against Antigone because she is Oedipus’ daughter, but he also looks down on her because she is a woman.
Creon’s gender inequality is apparent especially when he often points out that Antigone is a “wicked woman”, also when he mentions that Haemon was seduced and “has sold out to a woman. ” Creon is annoyed when Haemon stands up for Antigone and says that he has been “taken in” by her. Creon has a very traditional view of how a woman should act and Antigone threatens that view. Her outspokenness and defiance make her “wicked” in his eyes. Because Antigone did not beg for her life or apologize when accused of burying her brother, Creon calls her insolent.
The Choragus even says that “she has never learned to yield” like a woman should. Antigone’s constant refusal to yield damaged Creon’s pride and only makes his anger grow. Creon felt threatened that a woman had stood up to him, only made his urgency to punish Antigone greater……. Patriarchy plays a large part in the way Creon rules and even how he talks and interacts with his family. Creon thinks of men as superior and that a son should show his father great respect. Even Haemon says that Creon is his “guide” and that he will “obey” him.
When Haemon fights on Antigone’s behalf Creon is shocked that his son would stand up for an “anarchist. ” Creon calls Haemon an “adolescent fool” for being “taken in by a woman. ” Creon is appalled by Haemon’s insolence when Haemon tells him that if Creon were not his father he would say he was “perverse. ” Haemon and Creon’s father-son relationship is now damaged. Haemon even told his father that “you will never see my face again. ” By speaking against his father, and even when Antigone disobeyed Creon, Haemon challenged the patriarchal dominance that Creon had so often exploited to make people fear and obey him.