Antigone: Individual Vs. Society
Person vs Society
Individual vs society structures are needed for a society to thrive. Without it, people would do anything they pleased, with little consideration or concern for others. Structure, usually in the form of laws created by a person of power, is what keeps a group of people together, and allows for peaceful order between these individuals. Laws, however, can sometimes be corrupted by the one that is governing them. Although these laws may go against what is good for the people, fear can often times effect the way a population behaves.
There are also times when someone stands up against the unmoral laws set by a powerful government, making logical arguments against them, and sparking positive change in a society. Whether through the power of fear or the expression of reason, it is usually the voice of an individual that influences the thoughts and actions of an entire society. Good examples of the power of a single person on a large group are seen throughout the Sophocles play Antigone. Two characters that influence the actions of the other characters are Creon, the newly appointed king of Thebes, and his niece Antigone.
What is person vs society difference? The conflict that unfolds between these two begins with the death of Antigone’s two brothers. One brother, Eteocles, dies defending Thebes and for that reason he is given a proper burial. Polynices, on the other hand, dies a betrayer to the city, and was kept unburied, left to be consumed by the elements and animals of the city. Creon did not believe a traitor such as Polynices deserved the same treatment as his honorable brother. He states that, “Never at [his] hands [would] the traitor by honored above the patriot. ” (Line 231-232).
He makes a law forbidding anyone from laying Polynices to rest. He says that the price for anyone who breaks this law is death. When a sentry enters the play to tell the king that someone has attempted to bury Polynices, Creon shows his power over his people by threatening the sentry. Although the sentry tells him he had nothing to do with the burial, Creon is not convinced. “I swear to Zues,” he says to the sentry, “if you don’t find the man who buried that corpse… simple death will not be enough for you, not till we string you up alive and wring the immorality out of you. (Line 345-350). He uses his power to strike fear in the heart of his subjects, and through this fear he convinces the people of Thebes to keep quite and obedient to his laws. Creon’s son Heamon tells his father, “The man in the street, you know, dreads your glance. he’d never say anything displeasing to your face. ” (Line 773-774). The only person in the city who is ready to defy Creon’s law is his niece, the sister to Polynices, Antigone. She is overcome with grief by Creon’s order, and sets out to bury her brother.
She believed that Creon, “a mere mortal,” did not have the power to “…override the gods, the great unwritten, unshakable traditions…” surrounding the rights of a dead man (Line 503-505). Her loyalty was to her family, not to the new king of Thebes. When Antigone goes to her sister Ismene to plead for her help in burying their brother, even she is too afraid of Creon’s authority to assist her only family. “I must obey the one’s in power,” she says. “… defy the city? I have no strength for that. ” (Line 79-80, 93).
She is lead to go against what she feels is morally right because she is fearful of the consequences. Even though Antigone is aware of these deadly consequences, she is willing to face them and stand up for what she believes is right. Discovering that Antigone has gone against him, Creon immediately sentences Antigone to death. Even still, Antigone does not surrender to Creon’s law, “… not out of fear for son man’s wounded pride” (Line 510). Her rebellion against Creon gets the city of Thebes to reconsider the morality of their king.
Heamon brings this to his father’s attention after he sentences Antigone to death. Haemon has caught “… the murmurs in the dark, the way the city mourns for [Antigone]. ‘No woman,’ they say, ‘ever deserved death less… for such a glorious action… Death? She deserves a glowing crown of gold! ’” (Line 775-782). Haemon warns Creon that if he continues to favor pride over reason, the people of the city will likely rebel against him. Despite this, Creon is still the only one who has true command over Thebes, and no one rises against him to keep Antigone from being entombed.
The chorus reminds the reader that “… attacks on power never go unchecked, not by the man who holds the reins of power. ” (Line 960-961). Still, the chorus describes Antigone’s disobedience as “lovely strength” and uses the term “yolk,” a word meaning tyranny and opression, to describe king Creon’s rule. By the end of the play, it is Antigone’s voice that rang the loudest in her society’s ears. Although she was no longer alive to voice her beliefs, her point was made; she had forever changed the views of both the people of Thebes and Creon himself.