Gender Issues in Antigone

Gender Issues in Antigone

One of the most devastating problems for
the Classical Greeks was the women\'s issue. Women in Classical Greece were
not citizens, held no property, and indeed were not even allowed out of
the house except under guard. Their status differed from that of the slaves
of Greece only in name. This alone, however was not a problem -- the problem
was that the Greeks knew, in their hearts, that this was wrong. Indeed,
their playwrights harangued them about it from the stage of Athens continually.

All of the great Grecian playwrights -- Sophocles, Euripedes, Aristophenes
-- dealt with the women\'s issue. All of them argued, in their various ways,
that the women of Greece were not nearly as incapable and weak as the culture
believed them to be. All of them created female characters of strength
and intelligence. But in "Antigone," the discussion reached its peak. Antigone
herself, as she stands upon the Grecian stage, represents the highest ideals
of human life -- courage and respect for the gods. A woman, she is nevertheless
the exemplum for her society.

But how are we to know this? Does the author
let the audience know that it is Antigone herself, not Creon, the "noble-eyed
imperator" (453), who is to be believed? It is almost inconceivable that
the audience would be meant to ignore Creon\'s apparently skillful arguments,
for he appears to represent all that the Athenian should strive for. He
stands for obedience to the State. Surely it is his voice we should obey.

Sophocles does let us know where the truth
lies, and he does this, amazingly, partly through his characterization
of Creon. Though Creon seemingly says intelligent things, there are clues
that he is not to be trusted. One would be his discussion of incest with

Ismene. Torn between her duty to God and her duty to the State, Ismene,
in the third act, has run to Creon, planning to tell him of Antigone\'s
actions in the graveyard: "O, not for me the dusty hair of youth, / But
let us now unto the palace go" (465), she cries. But Creon, ignoring the
supposedly important information she has to tell -- he has, after all,
emptied the Theban coffers, spending money on his advanced spy network
in search of the miscreant -- asks her, instead, to come home with him.

"How long, O Princess, O! How long!" he states, suggesting a time for their
next meeting: "Upon the hour of noon, or / Not upon the hour of six." To
such a pass has the doomed line of Oedipus come. It is clearly his fault
that Ismene throws herself into the sea outside Thrace.

Of course, it is Ismene\'s suicide that
is the springboard for the rest of the action. She has shown herself to
be all that the Athenian society desires her to be: obedient, pretty, sweet-
tempered, and dead -- but it is not enough. Obedience has gotten the state
nowhere, and women nowhere, and outside the walls of the city, the dead
are still being buried at alarmingly fast rates, quicker, almost, than

Creon can dig them up.

Antigone solves the whole problem. Though
she is, indeed, like Ismene, both pretty and dead at the end, she nevertheless
provides a clear example of what women can do when they are trusted with
power, rather than kept at home. For it is her newly formed women\'s rights
group, based on the Lysistratan model, which creates the only solution
to the Theban problem. Though Antigone herself is dead by the time the
group comes up with their stunningly simple plan, it it her legacy which
informs the decision. "Not upon the dead nor yet / Upon the living base
thy worth" (521), the Theban women cry, and upon their creation of a new
burial ground, neither within the city, nor without, but within the walls
of the city itself, they alone stop the civil war which threatens Thebes.

Their ingenious solution provides a liminal space for the disgraced family
of the late king, Oedipus. And the final scene, wherein the entire family
joins Antigone, buried within the walls of Thebes, creates a physical metaphor
of bonding and solidity. The traitor brother Polynices, the depressed sister

Ismene, the political firebrand Antigone, joined with their uncle Creon
and their hot-tempered cousin and his mother, all are together at last
in harmony, united in the purpose of the defense of their beloved city
against the Spartan onslaught, a sort of spiritual and physical mortar
to the defensive structure.

It is no wonder that Antigone, the prize
winner of the Athenian festival in which