Conscience Vs Society Antigone Essay

Antigone Individual Vs. Laws O Essay

In Sophocles' "Antigone", the primary focus is on the concept of the individual versus the laws of authority within society. In "Antigone" the reader is challenged by the various conflicting morals that are presented. Antigone's predicament is one related to moral principles. She must decide whether or not she must act based on what she believes to be right or submit to the authority of her king. Throughout this play, Sophocles brings up the issue in question, the value of an individuals beliefs above society's laws. He develops for us the character of Antigone who must discover the true meaning of honor by choosing between divine law and laws of her city state.

In Ancient Greece, after 800 B.C., new ideas came to the forefront concerning the governing of society. These ideas led to the development of the city states, large self governing towns. These city states were founded on the principles of freedom, optimism, secularism, rationalism and the glorification of the body and mind. Accompanying these principles was an obligation of fierce loyalty to the city state and a willingness to shed blood on it's behalf. Within this atmosphere of extreme loyalty, freedom was only enjoyed with the assumption that when the time came, every able bodied man would be willing to fight for his people. Indeed political leaders and local authority figures were usually heroes of war. Creon, the king in "Antigone", states that "Alive or dead, the faithful servant of his country shall be rewarded." This statement exemplifies the values within Greek culture.

As the dictator of Thebes, Creon simply wants to enforce these values of loyalty. He sets the standard of his reign and makes a public example of Polyneices by not allowing anyone to give him a proper burial. Polyneices is considered an enemy of the state and Creon cannot allow any traitor to be honored, especially in death. In one of his first orations as king, Creon says "As God is my witness...no man who is his countries enemy shall call me a friend." By saying this Creon is exercising his authority and clearly stating his hatred for traitors. Later in the play, Antigone comes to be seen as a traitor by Creon because she openly disobeys his orders and gives Polyneices a burial.

But what about Antigone's actions? Are they necessarily wrong? One might argue that...

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Antigone: Individual vs State

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The clash between individual conscience and governmental law is a time-honored struggle of mankind, involving the conflict between adhering to civil law and giving allegiance to a higher law, or power. Everyone has their own beliefs as to what is moral and immoral. Many people today will oppose the government and sacrifice themselves because of their personal belief that certain laws are unjust. Gandhi, the leading advocate for independence in India, demonstrated this when he urged protestation of governmental laws and self-sacrifice for one’s personal beliefs.

Such forms the basis for the struggle in Antigone, the Greek tragedy written by the great playwright, Sophocles. At the epicenter of this tragedy is the conflict between man’s moral sense of what is right, and the social law which society has sanctioned. The discord between the two is demonstrated through the duty to family adhered to by Antigone, and the responsibility, or necessity, felt by Creon to impart the rule of governing law. Both characters demonstrate logical reasoning behind their actions and strong arguments can be marshaled for each side.

The Greek tragedy, Antigone, explores this dramatic clash between the state and individual conscience. While not providing a universal outcome, Antigone examines the conflict when personal and political beliefs converge in opposition with one another, clearly demonstrating there is no clear-cut answer in deciding whether one takes precedence over the other. Antigone and Creon express conflicting opinions that allude to the theme of individual conscience versus the laws of government. In the opening scene, the two daughters of Oedipus, Antigone and Ismene, discuss whether they should bury their brother, Polynices.

Creon, the King of Thebes, orders that Polynices not be given a proper burial because “he that spilled the blood of his blood and sold his own people into slavery” (1308). Creon declares that anyone who tries to bury Polynices will be killed. Antigone, being strong-willed and loyal to her family, makes up her mind to give Polynices a proper burial. She approaches the situation in a noble way, with dignity and respect, and is prepared to take complete responsibility for her actions. In spite of the cautious advice from Ismene, Antigone knows Polynices is her brother, and it is her duty to bury him properly according to divine law.

She sums up her conviction to Ismene in the statement, “And now you [Ismene] can prove what you are: A true sister, or a traitor to the family” (1304). Antigone keeps her word and buries her brother, going against the law of man and Creon. Later, a guard of the tomb comes to Creon and explains what happened. According to the sentry, “She was not afraid… she denied nothing” (1304). She truly believes that what she is doing is right and that the gods were on her side. Creon believes in the need for absolute compliance to his edict.

He is shocked and furious that a woman would disobey him and so condemns Antigone to death. He refuses to let a woman “show him up” and make him look weak. Not even the fact that Antigone is family could lighten her punishment. Both Creon and Antigone struggle with their morals and how far they were willing to go for their beliefs. For Antigone, the decision is which is more important: her life or her family. Creon forces her to decide between him and her civic duty, and her blood family and religious beliefs, or duty.

When defending herself, Antigone says, “This death of mine is of no importance; but if I had left my brother lying in death unburied, I should have suffered. Now I do not” (1313). For Antigone, love for family and devotion to the gods and her beliefs was more important than life itself. As she said in the play, “I have longer to please the dead than please the living here: in the Kingdom down below I’ll live forever” (1322). Had she not buried her brother, she never would have been able to live with herself. Now she can die knowing she did the right thing, that she is the victim of an unjust law.

Creon, on the other hand, has to decide between enforcing his law and decision as a king, and admitting his mistake in reasoning. Being the ruler, he feels a duty to follow the rule of law in order to maintain civil order. He places the loyalty to the state above the loyalty to his family, or blood relatives, and he demonstrates this by his statement: “If any makes a friend of more account than his fatherland, that man has no place in my regard … nor would I ever deem the country’s foe a friend to myself … ur country is a ship that bears us safe, and that only while she prospers in our voyage can we make true friends. ”

Creon faces pressure to change his decision from every direction. Haemon, Creon’s son, tells his father that what he is doing is wrong and that he is angering the people. Towards the end of the story, the blind prophet, Teiresias, goes as far as to say that Creon has angered the gods and tells him that he has terrible punishment in his future. Creon realizes that he has made a grave mistake and yet refuses to admit it due to his prideful nature.

His dilemma is summed up in one statement: “Oh it is hard to give in! but it is worse to risk everything for stubborn pride” (1325). The clash between the state and individual conscience puts both Antigone and Creon in a situation in which neither can truly win. Although social law seems to be unfair to Antigone in the story, Creon appears to suffer the most. Antigone sacrifices her life, but she is at peace with herself and has pleased the gods. Even when facing death, Antigone stands up for what she believes, alone, and displays admirable qualities that many people would like to make their own.

Creon, conversely, is faced with shame and loss by his character flaws of stubbornness and pride. Everything in Creon’s life falls apart because of his unwillingness to compromise on his feelings of duty to the state. He loses his son, his wife, and everything he loves, including his power as a ruler. He becomes a shell of his former self, a miserable, broken man. The “tragedy” of Antigone is revealed in the conflict between two differing viewpoints that can be seen as valid in their own right.

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That is the true tragedy- that each character can be looked upon as behaving correctly according to the laws each of them has chosen to follow. Although the conflict between the individual conscience and state could inspire serious debate, Sophocles knew there could be no true winner in this argument. Both points of view can be appreciated in their own right. Hence the tragic solution to this dramatic conflict as demonstrated in the ultimate demise and destruction of both characters’ lives, was the only possible outcome.

Author: Brandon Johnson

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Antigone: Individual vs State

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