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A Feminist Reading Of Sophocles' Antigone

1784 words - 7 pages

 
    While researchers disagree over when the feminist movement began, most agree that it was sometime in the past two centuries. The feminist movement has generally, and often successfully, sought equality between sexes. For example, the womens' movement has won women the right to vote, moved women "out of the kitchen," and, in many ways, made women socioeconomically competitive with men. Nonetheless, all such gains, and the womens' (or feminist) movement itself are largely products of the last 200 years. However, women who are feminists per se have been around much longer. One example of a classic feminist could be Antigone, a fictional woman written of by Sophocles in the fifth century before Christ. In some ways, Antigone even shows some characteristics of a modern feminist.

Antigone first demonstrates feminist logic when she chooses to challenge a powerful male establishment. This establishment, personified by her uncle Creon, has a whole army to defend it, and it is usually challenged by whole city-state like Argos, not one lone "fire-eating" woman (3) and her bumbling sister. The challenge occurs as both a defiance of Creon's laws in Antigone's burying Polynices and as a direct verbal assault on Creon himself. Antigone tells Creon bluntly while he questions her,

Sorry, who made this edict? Was it God?
Isn't a man's right to burial decreed
By divine justice? I don't consider your
Pronouncements so important that they can
Just . . . overrule the unwritten laws of heaven. [ellipses original]
You are a man, remember. . . .
I dare say you think I'm being silly.
Perhaps you're not so very wise yourself. (12) [ellipses added]

The last three lines suggest Antigone's feminist stance: she almost calls Creon a fool! Such opinion shows that Antigone does not give Creon additional respect either because he is a man in a patriarchal society or because he is king. In such way, she argues an equality of the sexes, as well as equality under God. However, Antigone's justification for her act provides readers with more of a quandary.

Antigone's motivation to bury Polynices could be one of, or a combination of, three stimuli. First, Antigone could be using her statements about divine justice as a clever justification to leave the world as she does. Indeed, Antigone contemplates suicide with pleasure. She claims, "I'd welcome / An early death, living as I do now" (12), and she sarcastically claims, "We have had / A fine inheritance from Oedipus" (3). The inheritance includes, "the whole range of sufferings ... grief upon grief / Humiliation upon humiliation" (3). Antigone has led a horrible life full of grief and humiliation. She is miserable and desires to leave life with some glory -- something of which she has not had much. Clearly, Antigone leads anything but a pleasurable life. Thus, Antigone's motivation could be just to leave her miserable life with a bit of glory, which she can (and does) achieve by causing Creon's...

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