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Antigone | Study Guide

Jean Anouilh

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Antigone | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In what ways does Antigone grow as a character in Anouilh's Antigone?

As readers learn in the Prologue, Antigone is destined to die young because of her mythic name. Knowing her fate, it would seem, limits her ability for growth. Yet her character does develop in the course of the play. At first she is determined to bury her brother, but then her heroic stance is deluded: she is forced to admit her motivations—religious duty, sisterly devotion—are nothing more than rationalizations. Later however, through her struggle with Creon, she arrives at a new motive: a full-throated rejection of a compromised life and full acceptance of the life she symbolizes. Finally just before her death, she realizes she has no idea why she is dying. Anouilh reverses the normal process of character development. In naturalistic theater characters grow and change through their interactions. For Antigone's character, change means growing into her predetermined role, even as her reasons for embracing that role slip away.

In Antigone what purpose do the various anachronisms serve?

In the original staging of the play, the setting is neutral and spare, not unlike the staging of the ancient Greek dramas; but the actors wear contemporary evening dress, and the guards wear long leather coats. Creon is fond of antique shops; the guards use handcuffs and chew tobacco; Polynices went to nightclubs. This jarring juxtaposition of timeless and modern is a metatheatrical effect—that is, it draws attention to the fact that what is happening onstage is theater. It invites the audience to attend to both the familiar elements of the myth and the particular elements of the story as it unfolds. Some critics explain that this technique reflects the way individuals experience their own lives, both as a series of unexpected events and as a predetermined pattern that begins with birth and ends with death. The object of Anouilh's anachronisms, then, may be to highlight the importance of making choices within lives that are largely predetermined (by class, geography, sex, and so on).

How does Anouilh use the character of Antigone to explore the theme of freedom versus constraint in Antigone?

Antigone chafes at being a girl in a man's world (as later she is literally chafed by the guards' handcuffs). In spite of the constraints based on her sex, she is a remarkably free spirit—true to her symbolism. She is characterized in Part 1 (Early Morning) as having been a willful child, a willfulness that has only grown as she matures: "I can say 'no' to anything I think vile, and I don't have to count the cost." However, Antigone enjoys this freedom to say no to anything and everything because she is still a child. The only way to avoid the constraints that would inevitably come—the compromises involved in marriage, for example, and then more compromises—is to avoid growing up. By insisting on burying Polynices, she devises a permanent escape from the possibility of constraint.

In Antigone how does Anouilh use the character of Creon to explore the theme of freedom versus constraint?

Creon gave up the cushy lifestyle he enjoyed when he was merely the king's brother-in-law—a life revolving around arts, music, and antiquing. As an aristocrat he had a choice. However, he says yes to being king because he would have felt like a coward had he refused, "like a workman who turns down a job that has to be done." He sees it as his duty to restore order to the kingdom after its upheaval, and he compares his role to a captain trying to save his ship. Although Creon as a grown man has more true freedom than Antigone, he is constrained by his own morality—the sense of responsibility for others.

How does the character of Antigone illustrate the theme of integrity?

Integrity has many senses. It can mean adhering to one's moral convictions, having a strong will, or being uncorrupted. Antigone initially shows the first two kinds of integrity in her determination to bury Polynices. But she wavers in her conviction when she learns in Part 6 (The Daughter of Oedipus) that Polynices had plotted with his brother to kill their father, Oedipus. As she discovers a new target for defiance—the adult world of compromise—she symbolizes a different type of integrity: purity. Until now she has sensed her fate but not fully understood it. When she learns in Part 7 (One Last Appeal) what it would mean to live in Creon's corrupt world, she understands who she really is and why she must die. In doing so she "is going to be able to be herself," as promised by the Chorus.

In what ways does Creon have or not have integrity in Antigone?

Creon does act in accord with his commitments and is thoroughly committed to maintaining civil order. He expresses this conviction in Part 6 (The Daughter of Oedipus) when he explains why he took the crown: he didn't want to, but he felt it was his duty to bring "a little order to this absurd kingdom." He compares the sometimes draconian measures he has taken to those of a captain working to save his ship. In that situation, "You shout an order and if one man refuses to obey, you shoot straight in the mob." However cynical his actions, they always consistently point toward the same goal: maintaining order. Even when Antigone's death leads to the suicides of his wife and son, he does not waver in his conviction—he moves in Part 10 (Late Afternoon) right on to the next cabinet meeting. "They say it's dirty work, but if we didn't do it, who would?" he asks his page. Though his actions are consistent with his commitments, it's hard to say they are always ethical—a precondition for integrity according to most philosophers. Certainly those who see Antigone as an anti-fascist allegory would find Creon unethical. Others, however, may believe the drastic actions described in Creon's "captain of the ship" analogy are justified.

In Antigone what is the significance of Antigone's line, "What one can do, one should do"?

Antigone presents this argument to Creon early in their long encounter, when in Part 6 (The Daughter of Oedipus) he asks her why she insists on burying her brother. It's a candid expression of her motivation before she muddles her argument with halfhearted appeals to religion and sisterly love. It expresses the simple belief, true to her symbolism, that anyone can perform an act of resistance, however small the gesture. People who see Antigone as a rallying cry for resistance to tyranny may be drawn to this line in the play because it is the protagonist's purest expression of defiance to Creon's tyrannical behavior. Later she backpedals, and after that, when she makes her final defiant cry of no! in Part 7 (One Last Appeal), she is not rejecting political tyranny but life itself.

How does Anouilh present his view of political expediency in Antigone?

Antigone's perspective is not as clear as one might expect. Just as the audience can be ambivalent about Creon's integrity or lack thereof, critics can disagree about whether his expedient acts are moral or immoral. (As British statesman Roy Hattersley says, "Morality and expediency coincide more than the cynics allow.") Creon himself defends his expedient actions in Part 6 (The Daughter of Oedipus), such as leaving Polynices's body unburied, on utilitarian grounds. Utilitarianism says moral action is the one that produces maximum happiness. Polynices's rotting corpse grieves Antigone (and Ismene); Creon himself is repulsed by it. But it serves the larger purpose of quelling rebellion in Thebes, which in turn means people can live in an ordered state and go about their individual pursuits of happiness. Antigone wholeheartedly rejects as morally corrupt what Creon represents: politically expedient actions. The rotting corpse triggers her rebellion and leads her to embrace death rather than live amid such corruption. Most audiences today read the play as a tribute to youthful idealism. As far as what Anouilh believed, it might be best to quote Camus, "Antigone is right—but Creon is not wrong."

Why does Anouilh bypass the opportunity for drama by having Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice die offstage in Antigone?

The plot of Anouilh's adaptation follows Sophocles's original closely in many ways. Violent death, including suicide, generally took place offstage in ancient Greek drama; Anouilh may have wanted to preserve this part of the Antigone tradition. Anouilh may have also wanted to avoid any hint of melodrama, which the Chorus discusses in Part 4 (Chorus): "Death, in melodrama, is really horrible because it is never inevitable." It would be difficult to make Antigone's death seem "inevitable" in Part 10 (Late Afternoon), with Haemon there at her side. Why can't he just prevent her from hanging herself? And how did he get in there, anyway? Keeping the double suicide offstage avoids these staging difficulties.

Why does Antigone say to Creon in Part 6, "What a king you could be if only men were animals!"?

At this point in Part 6 (The Daughter of Oedipus), Creon has just finished justifying his decision to say yes to being king. He contrasts his embrace of responsibility with Antigone's easy no. He argues that saying no is passive. Saying yes is active, and what's more, it's natural. Animals, for example, don't say no; they go onward: "Animals are good, simple, tough. They move in droves." Creon makes a valid point, but he will not score any points with Antigone by comparing her to a simple herd animal. Antigone is not simple, and she's not one of the herd (in fact she really hates crowds); as the daughter of Oedipus, she believes she has a unique and mythic destiny. No wonder she mocks Creon's argument.

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