Gender Roles in “Antigone”
Megan Bright Palenchar, Hour 2 November 8, 2009 Sophocles was Grecian dramatist who liked to argue that women were more capable and strong than the Greek society believed them to be. In ancient Greece, women had about as many rights as the slaves. For her entire life, a woman would live under the control of her father, husband, or other male relative. Women did not leave the household but instead spent all day taking care of it. Women with wealth didn’t work and supervised the slaves. The poorer a woman was, the more freedom she had to go outside, ironically.
A low-class woman could be seen going to the market or working with her husband, and an even poorer woman could be seen going to the market alone. So naturally, in Sophocles’ play, “Antigone,” the main character is a clear example of a courageous, intelligent high-class woman defying her culture’s limits. She didn’t just go against the State, but her superior male relative as well. This in turn intimidates and infuriates the king. The gender roles are very important because they create tension in the story, which helps build up to the climax. It also affects the decisions of some characters because they want to defend their pride.
Right from the prologue, Antigone expresses her ambitions of breaking Creon’s law in order to honor her dead brother, Polyneices. “Creon is not strong enough to stand in my way” (774). She argues with her sister Ismene, a character opposite in personality who portrays an ideal woman in ancient Greek times- obedient, fearful, and overall inferior. It would be so outrageous for a woman to dare break the law that it never occurs to Creon as a possibility. This is proven when Creon finds out that someone buried Polyneices and assumes it was a man who made the offense.
Sophocles clearly depicts that fact twice, the first time on page 779 when Creon asks, “And the man who dared do this? ” and again on page 780 when he declares, “…unless you bring me the man, / You will get little profit from them in the end”. When Creon discovered that Antigone was the one to commit the crime and saw how unregretful she is, he was intimidated. He hated the fact that she was so courageous because it made him question his ruling. Also, all of the people talked about what an honorable crime it was. All of these factors made Creon feel inferior, and I believe this accounted for his harsh punishment for Antigone, his own neice.
Antigone on the other hand, was also defending her pride. Her defense wasn’t so egotistical though; she was really just defending her honor and the honor of her brother. “Antigone” poses the insight that pride can affect a person’s decisions. It was Antigone’s pride for her family that made her bury her brother. Likewise, it was Creon’s pride for his kingdom that outlawed the honoring of Polynieces, and his pride for himself that made him punish his own neice. Sometimes one listens to the heart over the mind, and it can end tragically.