Is Sophocles trying to bring out the strength of women in Antigone or trying to keep women viewed as inferior?
What do the actions of Antigone and Ismene tell us about the roles of women as Sophocles saw them?
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The lessons we learn from this play actually go beyond gender barriers. But if we were to say that Sophocles was making an argument about gender roles, or gender qualities, he is really chastising the role of men and the quality of men rather than saying anything about what the role of women should be. Sophocles points out that both Ismene and Antigone had both their merits and their faults. At times being submissive to the law and protecting your own life is wiser than being headstrong. At other times fighting against society for what you know is right and even dying for what is right is the wiser choice. Sophocles never really says which woman's view was more right than the other because the truth is both were right in their own way. But the one thing Sophocles does strongly point out is that man's view that he is the authority over all is the truly wrongful and dangerous standpoint. Therefore, on the one hand Sophocles is making an argument about stubbornness in general, but on the other hand he is pointing at men as being at most fault for their stubbornness, rather than women.
Creon is the most blameworthy character in the play. Repeatedly he is portrayed as an irrational, dictatorial figure, and repeatedly he is told that he is wrong. In fact, he is the only character who is consistently told that he is wrong. We especially see Creon assert his own authority as a man when he argues that if he lets Antigone get away with her deeds, then he would no longer be a man because she would be ruling over him rather than the other way around, as we see in his lines, "Now I am no man, but she is a man, if power lies with her with impunity" (498-500). Creon also asserts when speaking with his son Haemon that the role of a child is to be obedient to his/her father. But Creon's dictatorial nature as a man is greatly chastised throughout the play. Haemon is the first to chastise his father by telling him that he needs to begin listening to someone else's opinion other than his own, as we see in Haemon's line, "but sometimes another man's opinion is also right" (698-699). Haemon further claims that the whole city is weeping for Antigone's death and saying that she was right to honor her brother. Even the trusted soothsayer Tiresias tells Creon he was foolish for placing his own laws above the gods' laws. Therefore, we see that Sophocles is really making a point about stubbornness in general but also pointing out that man's view of his authority over others is very wrong indeed.
Antigone's own stubbornness is also chastised, especially by the chorus. Frequently the chorus comments on her inability to bend and argues that her stubbornness has led to her death. However, Antigone is never completely called wrong, neither is Ismene. We especially see the equal merit of both women's views expressed in Antigone's own line addressed to Ismene, "You seem clever to some, I to others" (573). Therefore, since both women can be considered equally right, Sophocles is not making a statement about the role of women; he is rather making a statement about the authority of men and stubbornness in general.
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