Compare and contrast Antigone from Antigone with Tom from The Glass Menagerie.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In both Antigone and The Glass Menagerie, connection to family plays an important role; indeed, Antigone and Tom are tied in inextricable spiritual bonds of obligation to their siblings. Condemned to live in a cave for honoring the death of her brother Polyneices by giving him a burial, Antigone is only freed from her punishment by her suicidal hanging. Tom's memory of his sister Laura pursues him even after he runs off; this memory becomes a candle that he must have his sister blow out in order to free himself from her haunting presence in his memory--"Blow out our candles, Laura--and so goodbye..."

Each suffers under the burden imposed upon their lives by their fathers, and are tied to family obligations. However, Antigone and Tom Wingfield differ in their acceptance of these obligations: Antigone is unafraid and defiant, rebelling against man's law and serving the law of the gods. In answer to Creon's charge that she has defied the law, she responds, 

                                                          I dared.
It was not God's proclamation. That final Justice
That rules the world below makes no such laws. (ll.57-59)

On the other hand, Tom works at the shoe factory and supports his mother and sister simply because he feels the pressure of duty to them. He longs for escape as suggested by his going out the fire escape at night to drink or to watch movies. Constantly, Tom eschews his duty and runs off at night; he defies his mother's traditionalist values by reading modernist literature such as that of D.H. Lawrence. And so, his mother, Amanda Wingfield, tells him in Scene 7: "You live in a dream; you manufacture illusions!" But Antigone honors ancient custom and obeys the gods and "has never learned to yield" (l.78) to any illusions. Antigone follows her conscience; Tom follows his dreams of adventure and the poetry of life; he escapes, rather than rebels. Unfortunately for both, though, they fail to weigh the consequences of their actions as Antigone's fiance, Haemon, who is also Creon's son, kills himself, while Tom's sister and mother have no financial support after he leaves them.

Both Antigone and Tom Wingfield are tragic figures; however, whereas Antigone is the classic tragic figure, Tom is no hero. Unlike Antigone, he obeys no higher power; instead, he follows the escapist course of his father, "attempting to find in motion what was lost in space," arriving only at "a shattered rainbow." Antigone, on the other hand, is aware of the nobility of her deed and dies in deference to a higher power, but her loss of earthly love and her subsequent death make her a tragic figure.