Unintended Consequences in Antigone
Unintended consequences are situations where an action results in an outcome that is not what is intended. The unintended results may be foreseen or unforeseen, but they are almost always logical or likely results of the action. These consequences could be positive or negative, but it is often said that almost all human actions have at least one unintended consequence. In other words, each cause has more than one effect, including unforeseen effects. A real-world example of this is the Treaty of Versailles, which was the peace treaty that ended World War I.
Several countries were involved in treaty negotiations, but some countries were excluded and did not have any demands met. So what resulted is an unhappy compromise, sparking a chain of events that eventually let to World War II. So as a result, war was an unintended consequence of the the Treaty of Versailles. Just like in history, there are unintended consequences in Sophocles‘ tragic play, “Antigone. ” Tragedy creates a cause and effect chain and shows how the world operates, and it shows in this particular play.
In Antigone, by Sophocles, Antigone and Creon are both blind to possible outcomes of their actions resulting in unforeseen and foreseen consequences that ultimately result in the death of Creon’s entire bloodline. An example of Antigone’s unintended consequence is when she decides to bury her dead brother, Polyneices. Creon orders that no one is to bury Polyneices because he is a traitor. “… As for his blood brother, Polyneices by name, He broke his exile, he came back hungry for blood, He wanted to burn his fatherland and family gods Down from the top.
He wanted to lead his people Into slavery. This man will have no grave: It is forbidden to offer any funeral rites; No one in Thebes may bury him or mourn for him. He must be left unburied. May birds and dogs feed on his limbs, a spectacle of utter shame” (lines 163-206). Antigone understands that Creon will kill her if she burys her brother, but she says it will be a noble death. She shows this during her conversation with Ismene: “When you say this, you set yourself against me. Your brother will take you to him as his enemy. So you just tell me and my ‘bad judgement Go to hell.
Nothing could happen to me So bad that it would cloud my noble death” (lines 93-97). In this quote she says that her death will be noble, and stands firm to her decision. But the fact that she is martying herself for a dead brother proves that maybe she didn’t think things through. She’s only acting out of excessive pride and hunger for glory. Antigone’s final speech before death is somewhat confusing and reckless, saying that she would not have done this for a son or husband; this shows that her beliefs may have become distorted: “…
And, Polyneices, look: this is my reward for taking care of you. I was right, but wisdom knows I would not do it for a child, were I a mother. Not for a husband either. Let them lie, putrefied, dead; I would not defy the city at such cost for their sake… ” (lines 904-908). Later in this speech, Antigone hints that she did this because she thought it was what the gods wanted. She makes it seem that even though she stood firm to her decision and foresaw the potential consequences, she didn’t actually think it would come to this. “.. What have I ever done against divine justice?
How can I expect a god to help me in my misery? To whom should I pray now? Do you see? They are counting all my reverence to be Irreverence. If the gods really agree with this, Then suffering should teach me to repent my sin. But if the sin belongs to those who condemned me, I hope they suffer every bit as I do now” (lines 921-928). She is still showing pride but there are also signs of regret. She finds herself suddenly about to die, and didn’t expect it to happen. Perhaps she was trying to do what was right, and expect the gods to protect her for doing so.
The other unintended consequence is Creon’s choice to kill Antigone, which sets off an unforeseen chain of events that ultimately kills his whole family. Creon’s anger is partly directed towards the fact that he is being challenged by women. In Creon’s view, Antigone has stepped over the boundries of her rights as a citizen and a human being. Creon seems to wander into the whole situation completely blind, not weighing any outcomes of his actions. He does not have any practical reason or right judgement to do the things he does, and this is exactly what produces his family’s tragic fate.
His belief that the highest good in human life is the state, overruling any loyalty he might have to his family. Tiresias says to Creon that he lacks practical judgement, and each bad thing that happens can be directly related to his poor decisions. It’s clear that Creon finds this out for himself at the end of the play, when he realizes that he has unintentionally destroyed everything: “Please take this usless man, put him out of your way. He killed you, my child. Though that is not what he wished. And you, too, my wife. What a miserable wretch I am! Never to see them again!
On whom can I lean? Everything I though turns against me, My head bows to the fate that has leapt on it” (lines 1339-147). It’s clear that the consequences he has faced were not only unintended but unforeseen. There are a few causes for the unintended consequences in both situations. In Creon’s situation it was a combination of ignorance and basic values. He was ignorant to not think about what might happen when he wrongfully put Antigone to death, and he was ignorant to think of women as so inferior that he felt compelled to set Antigone straight just because of her gender.
Creon’s basic values also forced him to do certain things that yielded unexpected results. By valuing law and state above all else, he made a lot of enemies. He also did not look at the long-term effects, which left him no blood related heir to the throne. In Antigone’s situation she foresaw the consequences but failed to put them in perspective. Her views about her brother were distorted, and she believed divine justice would set in and make things right.