Antigone Antigone
by Sophocles

Antigone book cover
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Extended Character Analysis

Antigone is the protagonist of Sophocles’s play Antigone. She is Oedipus’s daughter and Creon’s niece. She is pious, brave, and loyal to her family. Upon returning to Thebes and learning that Creon has forbidden anyone from giving her brother, Polynices, a proper burial, Antigone decides to bury him herself. Rather than doing so in secret, Antigone is proud of her actions and readily claims responsibility. She accuses Creon of impiety and asserts the superiority of the so-called unwritten laws of the gods over the laws of men. Faced with execution, Antigone exclaims that she can die happily knowing that she preserved Polynices’s dignity in death.

Antigone and Her Family

Family is important to Antigone. As Jocasta and Oedipus’s daughter, she has lived with the legacy of being the offspring of incest. However, she still loves and cares for her father up until his death in Oedipus at Colonus. Upon returning to Thebes in Antigone, she sacrifices herself in order to give her brother a proper burial and asserts that the bonds between family members supercede Theban law. Though her family legacy has filled her life with “misery,” she still feels duty-bound to honor her fallen brother, and she disdains her sister, Ismene, for refusing to help. Antigone believes that she will be reunited with her family in death, a belief that helps her face execution with stubborn dignity.

Antigone and the Tragic Hero Narrative

Antigone is sometimes read as a tragic hero. She begins the play as a highborn woman who is betrothed to Haemon, the future king of Thebes. By this reading, her hamartia, or tragic flaw, is her lack of respect for Theban law and her pride in having defied it. By defying Creon’s will, she brings about her own downfall and is forced to confront the consequences of her actions. Just as Antigone’s mother, Jocasta, hanged herself after discovering that she had committed incest, Antigone also hangs herself after being entombed for her crimes. By this reading, her suicide is a form of penance.

However, many aspects of Antigone’s story do not fit into the narrative of a tragic hero. Antigone arguably begins the play at a low point rather than a high one. Her parents and her brothers are all dead, and, as women, Antigone and Ismene are relatively powerless in Theban society. Unlike her father, Oedipus, Antigone’s tragic fate is not determined by the gods nor does she defy them at any point. Indeed, Antigone defies Creon in order to uphold the laws of the gods. Teiresias suggests that the gods support Antigone’s actions and that Creon will bring ruin to Thebes by executing her. By this...

(The entire section is 675 words.)