Question: Explain as thoroughly as possible, what the basic conflict in Antigone is and how it came about. Then explain, as thoroughly as possible, what each of the two individuals involved in this conflict represents. Finally, explain as thoroughly as possible, what qualifies Antigone as a heroic figure?
The story of Antigone represents several internal and externa conflicts. However, the basic conflict is the conflict between the rule of the man and the rule of divine. In order to explain the basic conflict, it is necessary to have a look at the background of the conflict. Antigone, one of the main characters of the story is the daughter of Oedipus, who was once a king of Thebes. After the death of Oedipus, his sons, Eteocles and Polynices, agree to rule Thebes alternately each year. However, Eteocles does not follow the agreement after the expiry of his term, and expels his brother Polynices. Polynices gathers an army and attacks the city of Thebes to defeat his brother, however, both are killed in this fight and the throne goes to their uncle Creon, who decrees Polynices as a traitor and enemy of the city and that anyone who buries Polynices or mourns over his death will also be considered as a traitor and will be sentenced to death. On the other hand, Eteocles’s death is mourned and he is buried with honor like a hero of the war.
The basic conflict of the story starts when Polynices’s sister Antigone, the main character of the story, decides to go against the king’s rule and gets ready to face death for the respectable burial of her brother Polynices. Apparently, the conflict seems to be between the characters of Antigone and Creon, however, the two characters represent different values, where one emphasizes the rule of divine and the other represents the rule of man.
There are several aspects of the conflict which prove it to be a conflict between the rule of man and the rule of divine. For example, Antigone justifies that despite knowing Creon’s law regarding no mourning of Polynices’ death, she broke it because she would prefer to follow ‘divine law’ over the one made by a man. She responds to the decision of no burial of Polynices with courage, passion, and determination, putting the will of gods ahead of man-made laws. On the other hand, Creon tries to stick to the law and punishes Antigone to prove that for the sack of law, he won’t even forgive his own family members. Internally, Creon does not want to punish Antigone, as the story depicts when he once changes his mind to go and set her free from the tomb. However, externally, he is more concerned about the people who in his view should witness the rule of law of the city. The argument between Antigone and Creon to defend themselves is an opportunity to understand more about the nature of the conflict. Antigone justifies her action by stating that law of the city proclaiming her as guilty is not the law of Zeus, laws of gods but rather man-made laws who will die himself one day. She will honor her brother’s death following what gods have proclaimed by all mankind.
A thorough analysis of the characters, shows that the conflict between Antigone and Creon also represents a conflict between nature and society. Antigone, being carried away by the love and affection of her relationship with her beloved brother makes her stand against the king. Her decisions are quick, blunt and impulsive based on her feelings to be right to give honor to her beloved brother, without considering the consequences. Any such decisions are directed by emotions and human nature. On the other hand, Creon’s character is more carried away by social implications. His decision is manlier, and based on considerations for the social implications. Like a man and a social being, he takes into account all the consequences of his decision. Having a broader view of the implications of his decision, he thinks that this decision will nurture and strengthen the rule of law. Any society values leaders who implement the decisions at all levels, disregarding any consequences that may impact the leader him/herself. He wants to establish the rule of law in the eyes of the society.
Another view of the conflict represents a fight between the two characters where one is fighting for a broader obligation towards his kingdom, while the other character is fighting for a narrower obligation towards her family. This can be seen when Antigone justifies to her sister Ismene, that it was her duty to bury her brother as he was part of the family and by burying him, she is honoring her family. She is ready to meet death for the honor of her family and thinks that her death will not go in vain but she will feel honor.
Although Antigone faces death and loses her life for disobeying the law of the city, by burying her brother’s dead body, she still portrays a heroic figure in the story for several reasons. The character of Antigone shows courage, determination, and confidence in doing the right thing despite knowing the consequences of her right actions. At a point in the story, she tells her sister that she knew that she has to face death in response to honoring her brother with burial, but instead of fearing her death, she would rather feel honored to be dead for a cause and that her soul will be happy. Her confidence, determination, and courage against the powerful character of the king makes her a heroic figure in the story. Another reason, why Antigone represents a heroic figure is her pride in serving the gods and their laws despite stronger opposition. She justifies in her arguments that she is not afraid of death because she knows that she is justified and that she is following the law of the divine made for all mankind, rather than following the law of the city made by a man and applicable to a small bunch of people only. Her argument on prioritizing to follow the rule for the whole mankind and stand against the rule for a few people shines her character as a heroic one. Antigone character also portrays love and affection for a brother and family. In contrast to Creon who not only dishonors his own nephew Polynice, but also punishes his niece, Antigone appears stronger where she not only fights for the honor of the same family but is ready to meet death with courage and smile. This sacrifice for the affection, love and honor of the family further enhances her role as a heroic figure. Her response to the king’s question that why she is the only one who thinks that Polynice should be honored while rest of the people did not think so, made her character even further stronger in comparison to both the Creon and other people in the story. She responds that many people are against the decision of the king, but they are afraid and they won’t say it. Her response shows that she is stronger compared to the other people. Moreover, this response also weakens the character of the king.
Sophocles. “Antigone.” Glencoe Literature, Course 5. New York: Glencoe, 2002. 729-68.