Moral Conflict in “Antigone Essay
The major moral conflict in Antigone by Sophocles is the conflict over which value is most fundamental. The play presents the moral conflict over whether the god’s law or the city’s law is more powerful. This seems to be the most prominent theme. The conflict arises mainly between the tragic heroes Antigone and her uncle-in-law Creon, King of Thebes. The city of Thebes had been through a war in which Antigone and her sister Ismene have lost both of their brothers to it, Eteocles and Polyneices. Eteocles’s fighting for Thebes was buried and honored as a hero. (lines 24-26) Polyneices was left unburied and dishonored because he is considered an enemy of the city. (lines 27-32) Creon edicts that whoever broke the law by burying Polyneices will be considered a criminal. (lines 203-209)
The conflict between Antigone and Creon arises when she decides she must honor her brother’s death and gives him burial. (line 72) “I myself will bury him,” she expressed to Ismene. Once Antigone has buried her brother, she is brought before King Creon to explain her actions. (p. 177) Sophocles presents the two sides of the conflict, moral law versus city law; Antigone expresses the side of moral law and Creon expresses his side with the laws of the city. Antigone begins by telling her sister Ismene it was her duty as a sister that she should bury her dead brother. It is a duty she owes to her family. She also expresses that the king will not “keep me from my own.” In other words, duty to the family is above her duty to the city. Antigone also tells Ismene that she is willing to become a criminal and die for her beliefs. She believes her death will not be in vain, and it is honoring her family; and the gods, in turn, will recognize that as true honor. She continues by saying that she would rather please her dead brother than the city, so she disobeys the law. (line 89)
When a messenger comes to Creon, bringing the news that Antigone has buried her brother, he begins his arguments why Antigone has broken the law. He begins by stating that a man shows what he is made of by his “skill in rule and law.” In other words, the law is everything and as a ruler, he must do everything for his country. He considers Polyneices an enemy of the city and a threat to the security of the city as well. Thus Polyneices will be called a traitor in life and in death and dishonored. The scene when Antigone and Creon face each other is the opportunity for both to defend themselves. Creon questions Antigone. She bases her responses on that the city laws proclaiming her as illegal are not the laws of Zeus or laws proclaimed by gods, but rather, laws made by a man that one day will also die. She will honor her brother’s death because this is what the gods have proclaimed for all mankind. (lines 460-463)
In the dialogue between Creon and Antigone she also defends herself when he questions her as to why an enemy should be honored. She responds by saying she loved her brothers and her family, and they are not her enemies. Creon also asked Antigone why she was the only one defying him. She answers him by saying that there are many others who do not speak out because they fear him. (lines 508-509) Antigone offers one last argument in stating that she loves her family and will welcome death because she will join her dear family. If she has broken any of the god’s laws, she will know when she dies. She believes that good-will will have come from her death. (lines 878-882)
Creon responds to Antigone by calling her a criminal. She has disobeyed his law. If he lets her live, he will become a liar in the eyes of the city. (pp. 186-187) Creon considers himself as a good ruler; good rules cannot possibly allow his own family to rebel against him, in being disobedient because others will do the same. A good ruler must also put the laws and country above everything else. If he allows disobedience, it will destroy everything. (line 671)
Part of the conflict is also presented by Haemon. Haemon is Creon’s son and Antigone’s future husband. Haemon comes to offer his father and advice. He tells his father the people of the city are calling him unjust for killing Antigone. Haemon advises his father that a good ruler is one that is open-minded and not ashamed of learning something new. The city wants Creon to let the girl live. (lines 692-695) Haemon also tells his father if he goes through with his determination of killing Antigone, he will be dishonoring the gods. Haemon calls his father’s judgment empty. (p. 190)
Another aspect of city laws versus god’s laws is presented by the prophet Teiresias. He also advises Creon to leave the dead man alone. (lines 1027-1030) Creon will not gain anything by killing one over a dead man. Creon is held steadfast on his belief; not even Zeus himself will change his mind. (line 1040) The prophet says to Creon that the best thing a man has is his ability to listen to advice. (line 1050) Tieresias’s conclusion by telling Creon if he kills Antigone he would have dishonored the gods and will pay for it. (line 1072)
In presenting Antigone’s and Creon’s views, Sophocles makes the reader realize Creon is acting unjustly. He refuses to see the good in Antigone’s actions. He also has placed a bigger value in the laws and the city than the love for his family, his son, daughter-in-law, mothers, and sisters. He refuses to see the laws of the gods until the prophet tells him he will pay. (line 1070) Antigone never questions the love for her family as Creon never questions what he considers his duty to the city until the end when his actions have led to the death of Antigone, Haemon and his wife. This conflict could be resolved rationally if Creon was able to listen to the advice of his son Haemon and the prophet Teiresias. Both advise him not to take action against Antigone. The laws of the city are dishonoring the laws of the gods.
A case of internal conflict is presented in the person of Ismene. She too is very distraught by the death of her brothers and all of the tragedy that has fallen upon her family. (lines 50-60) The conflict is shown by all of the arguments she offers Antigone for not helping her with the burial of Polyneices. The first one is that she does not want the wrath of city law to fall on her. (line 58) She continues by adding that Antigone and she are only women that cannot fight men. (line 62) She also says she must be obedient to city laws and those who are stronger, no matter how painful it could be. (line 63) Lastly, Ismene says she “shall yield on this to the authorities.” (line 67)
Its further proof of her internal conflict when upon her sister’s fate Ismene confronts Creon and tells him she had a part in Polyneices burial. (line 537) She is willing now to join Antigone in her troubles and is not ashamed to admit it. (line 539) She is willing to join Antigone in death. In the case of Ismene, her character is able to resolve the conflict on her own. She realizes she is nothing without her family and Creon’s laws have taken her family away.
The conflict presented in Antigone involves all the characters and tragic heroes. Whether its internal conflict or conflict between two people, the theme is present throughout the entire play. Opposing views lead the main characters to take actions that eventually destroy all.