Conflict Between Individual Morals and State Laws in Antigone and A Doll's House
Mother, should I trust the government? Or should I trust myself? This dilemma is a common one in a great deal of literature. In Antigone and A Doll’s House, the main theme is the question of whether one should be true to oneself or true to one’s state or society. Should Nora (in A Doll’s House) and Antigone (in Antigone) “follow the rules” and do what the state and society want them to do or should they follow their own consciences? Both plays address the conflict between individual morals and state laws, obedience and disobedience, and understanding oneself.
Antigone shows the contrast between state law and divine law. Although the two have similarities, they are enforced in very different ways. The major conflict is this – according to divine law, Antigone’s brother must be buried, but, according to state law, Antigone’s brother is not to be buried due to his political standing. The divine law is a law that is the same for everyone and does not change, whereas the state law is what the king or ruler would want, and can change. Another view in Antigone would be the state against the people. For the state and state laws to exist there have to be 'the people' too. The state depends on the people and not just the ruler.
Haemon: A one-man state? What sort of a state is that?
Creon: Why, does not every state belong to its ruler?
Haemon: You'd be an excellent king - on a desert island (Sophocles page #).
Haemon questions whether Creon's judgements are correct or not (above). For Antigone the divine law is what should be used instead of the state law, which is defined only by what the king wants. Therefore should Haemon and Antigone oppose the state law? The king makes up the main part of the state, and decides whether the laws he makes are fair, and do not object to these laws otherwise he wouldn't be king. Some may think that it is wrong that people should oppose the state's laws, and should just follow them, but then they will never get to have their own beliefs and never have a better understanding of themselves in the end.
In Antigone there is the state and its laws, but in A Doll's House we see more of the society, and the laws it enforces on the individual. The society's rules prevent the characters from seeing and expressing their true nature. When Krogstad tells Nora that the law takes no account of good motives, she cries, "Then they must be very bad laws" (Ibsen page #). This causes a problem for the main female characters, in deciding if what they are doing is right or wrong. At the end of A Doll's House Nora realizes that she has lived as a 'doll', as her father's doll and then as her husband's doll, and has accepted the church and society without ever asking any questions about them. Then she questions herself...