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Antigone | Study Guide

Jean Anouilh

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Antigone | Character Analysis



Antigone, who is probably around 15, shares her late father's passionate nature. She wants to live life purely, on her own terms, and at the same time knows she is fated to die. She burns with the rebellious spirit of youth, and is determined to bury her brother, although Creon's prohibition against it carries a death sentence. Much of the play centers on her argument with Creon, in which he tries unsuccessfully to dissuade her from her purpose.


Creon never wanted to be king, but when his nephews kill each other in battle he has no choice. Now he tries dutifully to maintain order in his war-torn kingdom. He reveals his pragmatic, even ruthless, nature in restoring peace after the civil war. He wants to find a way to avoid carrying out a death sentence on his niece Antigone, but his concerns about disorder trump his sense of family loyalty. His attempts to dissuade Antigone from her chosen fate reveal both tenderness and canniness.


Unlike the chorus in a Greek tragedy, Anouilh's Chorus is not a member of Thebes's populace. From the play's first scene, he stands outside the action, providing background and introducing the characters. Later he provides commentary on the nature of tragedy. After the play's climax, he enters the action to condemn Creon; then he returns to the role of commentator for the final scene.


Ismene, Oedipus's older daughter, is one Antigone's foils. Whereas Antigone is "sallow and scrawny," Ismene is "gay and beautiful." Whereas Antigone is impulsive, Ismene is deliberate. She has determined that defying Creon will result in death at the hands of an angry mob. When she eventually musters the courage to help Antigone, it's too late.


To everyone's surprise, before the play begins Haemon has become engaged to Antigone instead of Ismene. A bit of a playboy, he is drawn to Antigone as if by fate. When Creon condemns her, he declares he will not live without her.


The nurse is a warmhearted, fretful, protective presence in Antigone's life. Her role at the beginning of the play helps highlight the fact that Antigone is still very young, teetering on the brink of adulthood.

Private Jonas

The guards represent both the common man and the police—neither of whom Anouilh paints in very flattering light. Private Jonas is alternately bombastic, officious, cowering, calculating, and callous.

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