Research Papers Themes Antigone

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Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for Antigone by Sophocles that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in Antigone and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of Antigone by Sophocles in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from Antigone at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Agency Versus Inaction in Antigone

Ismene and Antigone vary greatly in their respective attributes, Ismene is breathtakingly beautiful, while Antigone is plain; Antigone is brave while Ismene is frightened. The core difference between the two of them lies in Antigone’s willingness to create change and Ismene’s hope that she can make it through life without creating waves. This difference manifests itself most brilliantly in the burial of Polynices. Antigone is willing to risk anything to have her brother buried with honor, while Ismene worries solely for the safety of her sister. This behavior continues throughout the novel, with Ismene acceding to Creon’s demands, and Antigone taking brave but stupid risks. In the end of the play, Antigone even takes her life in her own terms. What can be said about the desire to make life happen, the ability to not sit idly by? Does Sophocles seem to advocate this position, despite the death of Antigone?

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Function of the Chorus in Antigone

For most plays, the role of the Chorus involves a small number of people, usually between 7-12, who make commentary on the unfolding events and serve as foreshadowers to the action to come. They are usually apart from the action, yet also apart from the audience; they function best as an uninvolved narrator. However, in Antigone, the chorus breaks most literary conventions. Instead of being portrayed as a group of people, the chorus is merely one person, who aligns himself with the audience. He quite frequently refers to the audience and himself as the collective “we" and by doing so, makes the audience a part of his chorus. Why is this important? What feelings towards the play are created when the audience takes on the role of the chorus?

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Antigone and Sisterhood

The rivalry between Ismene and Antigone is strong, because both girls are similar in age with very contrasting personalities. Antigone is decisive, moody, brave and impulsive, while Ismene is beautiful, timid and beautiful. The two are set up as classic “good girl" and “bad girl" stereotypes, with Antigone eventually tying Ismene to a tree, and stealing her sister’s makeup and other items to make herself more attractive to Haemon. However, despite this fierce rivalry between the two sisters, when Creon is threatening Ismene with death and imprisonment if she does not stop her attempts to bury her brother, Ismene is quick to jump to her defense, stating that if Creon locks Antigone up, Ismene will simply take over and die alongside her for their treason. What can be said about the juxtaposition of their past relationship and Ismene’s sudden willingness to die for Antigone? Is their rivalry perhaps less fierce than expected because of their bond of sisterhood?

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Individual Versus the State in Antigone

The role of the individual in Antigone is very important. Obviously, Antigone herself is a strong individual character, who is not willing to allow her brother to be dishonored, no matter what the cost is to her own body. Creon is also a strong character, and while he knows the law and is convinced that he must follow it, he has sympathetic feelings for Antigone and tries to get her out of trouble. In which ways are Creon and Antigone both destroyed by the power of the law? How do they try to get around the laws that have been set down by Creon, and in which ways do they fail at that attempt? What is the meaning behind their failures?

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: Tragedy in Antigone

As the reader progresses through Antigone, it becomes obvious by the plot twists that the play is a tragedy at heart. However, to make the nature of the play even more clear, the Chorus appears halfway through the production to tell the audience that the tragedy has begun. This statement proves the inevitability of the coming tragic events, and takes the pressure off of the characters to attempt to stop such things from occurring.


This list of important quotations from Antigone by Sophocles will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Antigone listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for Antigone above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Sophocles they are referring to.

“I didn't say yes. I can say no to anything I say vile, and I don't have to count the cost. But because you said yes, all that you can do, for all your crown and your trappings, and your guards—all that your can do is to have me killed." (18)

“My nails are broken, my fingers are bleeding, my arms are covered with the welts left by the paws of your guards—but I am a queen!" (19)

“If Haemon reaches the point where he stops growing pale with fear when I grow pale, stops thinking that I must have been killed in an accident when I am five minutes late, stops feeling that he is alone on earth when I laugh and he doesn't know why—if he too has to learn to say yes to everything—why, no, then, no! I do not love Haemon!" (14)

“As for those three red-faced card players—they are the guards. One smells of garlic, another of beer; but they're not a bad lot. They have wives they are afraid of, kids who are afraid of them; they're bothered by the little day-to- day worries that beset us all. At the same time—they are policemen: eternally innocent, no matter what crimes are committed; eternally indifferent, for nothing that happens can matter to them. They are quite prepared to arrest anybody at all, including Creon himself, should the order be given by a new leader." (17)

“Every kind of stillness. The hush when the executioner's ax goes up at the end of the last act. The unbreathable silence when, at the beginning of the play, the two lovers, their hearts bared, their bodies naked, stand for the first time face to face in the darkened room, afraid to stir. The silence inside you when the roaring crowd acclaims the winner—so that you think of a film without a sound track, mouths agape and no sound coming out of them, a clamor that is not more than picture; and you, the victor, already vanquished, alone in the desert of your silence. That is tragedy." (9)

“I'm simply powerless to act against this city's law.” (11)

“I intend to give my brother burial. I'll be glad to die in the attempt,– if it's a crime, then it's a crime that God commands.” (7)

“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.”(12)

“These signs portend evil for Thebes; and the trouble stems from your policy. Why? Because our altars are polluted by flesh brought be dogs and birds, picking from Polynices' corpse. Small wonder that the gods won't accept our sacrifices.” (18)

Source: Sophocles, Antigone. New York: Ivan R. Dee, 1998.
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There is no question that pride, in the context of Antigone (and most of Sophocles' works), is a trait despised by the gods and punished without mercy. In Antigone, Sophocles describes the type of pride that allows men to create laws that substitute for divine principles. In other words, when Creon creates a law because he believes it is divine will, that is the ultimate display of punishable pride, for no man can ever create a law that is equal to or above divine right. As a result, when Tiresias comes with the news that Creon will suffer, Creon realizes that he has made a terrible mistake, and yet still refuses to admit it, bending to the prophet's message only because he wants to preserve his life, not because he knows he's gone too far. As a result, he must suffer the loss of his family.

These three conflicts are very closely related, but this crude set of pairings helps to untangle some of the central issues of the play. Antigone and her values line up with the first entity in each pair, while Creon and his values line up with the second. Antigone continues to be a subversive and powerful play, and the inspiration for generations of rebels and dissidents. In the 20th century, a version of Antigone rewritten during the Second World War became one of the most powerful texts of resistance against the Nazis. The conflict between the individual and the power of the state was as pressing for Greek audiences as it is to modern ones. Antigone is a threat to the status quo; she invokes divine law as defense of her actions, but implicit in her position is faith in the discerning power of her individual conscience. She sacrifices her life out of devotion to principles higher than human law. Creon makes a mistake in sentencing her-and his mistake is condemned, in turn, by the gods-but his position is an understandable one. In the wake of war, and with his reign so new, Creon has to establish his authority as supreme. On the other hand, Creon's need to defeat Antigone seems at times to be extremely personal. At stake is not only the order of the state, but his pride and sense of himself as a king and, more fundamentally, a man.

Antigone's gender has profound effects on the meaning of her actions. Creon himself says that the need to defeat her is all the more pressing because she is a woman. The freedom of Greek women was extremely limited; the rules and strictures placed on them were great even for the ancient world. Antigone's rebellion is especially threatening because it upsets gender roles and hierarchy. By refusing to be passive, she overturns one of the fundamental rules of her culture. Ismene is Antigone's foil because she is completely cowed by the rule of men and believes that women should be subservient to them or risk incurring their wrath. Men are stronger, she says, and therefore must be obeyed. Ultimately, however, we see that she has merely bought into the problematic concepts that Creon espouses, for even when Creon realizes he may be wrong, he switches his defense, arguing that even if he were incorrect, he couldn't admit defeat to a woman, for that would upset divine law even more than backtracking on his principles. It is this fundamental untruth that Sophocles' play seeks to correct, mainly through the punishment that the Gods inflict on Creon as a result of his obtuse, misogynistic thinking.

When faced with injustice, Antigone and Ismene react quite differently - the former aggressively, progressively, and the latter more conservatively. Ismene is not so much afraid of injustice as she is frightened of her own demise - and she cannot bear to incur the wrath of men for fear of being condemned to the same fate as the rest of her family. After watching her father and brothers die, she believes that the best course of action is to lie low and obey. In the case of Ismene, it seems inaction is tied to fear-at least until she willingly offers to die next to Antigone, at which point we realize that she is not so much inactive as she is unsure of her place as a woman. Thus, while Ismene is a figure characterized principally by doubt, Antigone is one who plunges ahead purely on self-belief and her firm convictions about right and wrong. Ultimately, then, because of these fundamental differences in philosophy, they cannot die together, though Ismene wants to. Antigone forbids it - she cannot bear to have her sister tag along when Ismene all along is in the camp of the patriarchs, despite her eleventh-hour shift.

Athenians, and particularly Thebans, were sensitive to the idea of tyranny and the fine line between a strong leader and a brutal tyrant. Creon is in many ways a sympathetic character, but he abuses his power subtly - mainly by decreeing man's law as a consequence of divine will. His faults do not necessarily stem from a lust for power, for he often has noble intentions. He is completely loyal to the state, but is subject to human weakness and poor judgment. Indeed, at the beginning of the play he frequently comments on his desire to do what's best for Thebes and gains the confidence of both Haemon and the Chorus of Elders, who say that they will follow him if that is his goal. And though he continues to reprise this theme, Creon is clearly more concerned with preserving certain values of law rather than the good of the city. When faced with a choice that would preserve 'tradition' or his own interpretation of the rule of law vs. a more progressive approach that does not follow precedent but clearly benefits Thebans, he chooses the former.

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