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Antigone | Study Guide

Jean Anouilh

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Antigone | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


How are Antigone and Creon different from the common people of Thebes in Antigone?

As different as Antigone and Creon are, they have more in common with each other than with other characters. Both are keenly aware there are choices to make in life. Creon has made a conscious choice to embrace his duty to the people of Thebes, though he would have preferred a life of books and art, and he would also prefer to see his son happily married. Antigone chooses to defy Creon's tyrannical rule, even though she knows she will pay a heavy price. Unlike both of these characters, most people in the play aren't even aware they have a choice—particularly the "crowd," represented by the three guards. These characters live from one day to the next, unaware of the bigger picture: Antigone's heroic struggle in which they play a small role. They dwell on the "little day-to-day worries that beset us all." They are indifferent to the struggle between Creon and Antigone, for "nothing that happens can matter to them." They behave like the "good, simple, tough animals" Creon praises, those who move through life driven not by choices but by a primal urge.

How does Anouilh use Antigone to explore the metatheatrical idea that life is like theater?

Anouilh's Antigone explores the idea that everyone plays a role. The roles are something like fate, except that no divine order ordains them. Rather the roles seem to be social constructions. Unlike other characters Creon and Antigone are aware life has assigned them roles. Creon accepts the role of king, but Antigone rejects the role of dutiful niece. Yet she embraces another role, that of the rebel. To Antigone this role feels different, destined—from the moment the play began she felt "inhuman forces were whirling her out of this world." As the daughter of Oedipus, Antigone believes she exists on a different, heroic plane. She tells Creon in Part 6 (The Daughter of Oedipus), "I am too far away from you now, talking to you from a kingdom you can't get into." But Creon does not let her off the hook for her idealistic view of her destiny, insisting in Part 7 (One Last Appeal) she look at the real story behind the "drama in which [she is] burning to play a part." By Part 9 (In Her Prison Cell) even Antigone seems to feel deceived by the role she has chosen when she admits she doesn't know what she is dying for. Anouilh seems to suggest, even when characters believe they are acting of their own free will, there is no getting around the idea that they are constrained by their roles.

How do the Chorus's final words to the audience in Part 10 of Antigone presage the confused and often unjust scramble for revenge that followed the liberation of France?

When the Allied forces drove the Nazis out of France, a campaign of purification began. The effort to identify collaborators resulted in a sort of witch hunt. Though Anouilh wrote Antigone before the war ended, the words of his Chorus in Part 10 (Late Afternoon) predict the veil of suspicion that was cast widely in French society, entangling citizens "who believed one thing, those who believed the contrary thing, and ... those who believed nothing at all." Regardless of whether citizens sided with the collaboration, the resistance, or remained apolitical, many "were caught up in the web without knowing why." Anouilh himself was tarred by some critics as a collaborator because he requested clemency for an anti-Semitic journalist. Thanks to the ambiguity of Antigone itself, his political beliefs could not be pinned down, and he was never formally charged.

How does Anouilh characterize the "crowd," or the common people, in Antigone?

The "crowd" is most often characterized in terms of the key characters' reactions to it. In Part 1 (Early Morning) Ismene characterizes the common people as a howling mob, with "idiot faces," "animal hands," and "beefy eyes," who will tear her and Antigone apart if they defy Creon's order. Later in Part 6 (The Daughter of Oedipus) Antigone expresses similar revulsion to the crowd, pleading with Creon to keep her away from them until she dies: "I don't want to see their faces. I don't want to hear them howl." Creon characterizes them as an inhuman force in his analogy between the state and a ship, calling the mob "a beast as nameless as the wave that crashes down upon your deck," and he feels no guilt about firing directly into it to keep order. Anouilh characterizes the mob directly in the three guards. These characters, the Chorus tells us, are ordinary guys, with "wives they are afraid of, kids who are afraid of them." Yet in their actions and dialogue, they prove themselves brutish, petty, and indifferent to Antigone's sensitivity. Unlike the principle characters, the guards are incapable of independent thought or free will. Like all of Anouilh's everyday people, they lack the admirable traits that rivet viewers' eyes on Creon and Antigone. That Anouilh chooses to end the play with the three guards onstage playing cards reflects his dim view of the mass of humanity.

Why in the original French text of Part 7 of Antigone does Antigone tell Creon "J'aime un Hémon" ("I love a Haemon")?

Antigone utters this response in Part 7 (One Last Appeal) when Creon asks whether she loves his son. She has just rejected Creon's plea that she drop her rebellion and accept a life of ordinary happiness. She explains she loves the version of Haemon as he is today, "hard and young, faithful and difficult to satisfy, just as I am." However, she declares she will not love what Haemon will become, "if he too has to learn to say 'yes' to everything." Antigone here finally articulates her revulsion to the world beyond childhood. Representing youthful idealism, she rejects not only moral compromises that come with age but also the physical toll. Maturity brings nothing, she tells Creon, "except those lines in your face, and that fat on your stomach." Her rejection of the physical as well as the ethical effects of age set her firmly on the road to self-sacrifice. In effect she cannot love Haemon but only her version of him.

What is the significance of Antigone's murmuring "O tomb! O bridal bed!" when she is alone in her cell with Jonas in Part 9 of Antigone (In Her Prison Cell)?

These lines of verse come from Sophocles's version of Antigone. Anouilh's heroine speaks them at the same point in his play, except his Antigone is forced to share her final moments with Private Jonas, who fills up the silence with his boasts and complaints about being a guard. Antigone clearly didn't anticipate her moment of pure heroism would be adulterated by such banal chatter. Jonas's prosaic talk heightens the artificiality of Antigone's words, calling into question the integrity of her character. This moment is both comic and devastating; up to now, Antigone, and the audience, has believed she is playing her "true" role. Moments later she will question whether her convictions were true at all.

In Part 9 of Antigone why does Antigone decide not to tell Haemon in her last letter that she no longer knows the purpose of her death?

Although Antigone asks Private Jonas in Part 9 (In Her Prison Cell) to deliver to Haemon the letter she dictates, she must anticipate that its contents will become known to a wider audience—the crowd she fears being exposed to, even in death: "It's as if they saw me naked and touched me, after I was dead." It's also possible she lumps Haemon in with this crowd—those common sort who don't perceive the mythic plane on which Antigone exists. Paradoxically, even as she realizes her pride was pointless ("Creon was right. It is terrible to die"), she is still too proud to let her realization be known. In Greek tragedy this moment of enlightenment, or anagnorisis, would have been the climax of the play and served as a revelation for everyone involved. Antigone's willingness to leave others in a state of ignorance reinforces Anouilh's bleak view of the universe.

How does Creon's extended metaphor of the state and a ship differ in Sophocles's and Anouilh's versions of Antigone?

In both versions Creon invokes the safety of the ship to justify his tyrannical actions, but he does so for different audiences and purposes, with different levels of candor, and with different ideas about the cosmic forces that threaten the ship. In Sophocles's play Creon's reference to the state as a ship occurs early on. Creon invokes the image of a righted ship to persuade his audience of Theban elders that the city is safe—as long as everyone follows his rules. His speech has been polished for maximum appeal to the public. He gives credit to the gods for righting the ship after their "long, merciless pounding"; he says his job is now to keep the ship-state on course, invoking Zeus as his witness. In Anouilh's version of the play, Creon uses the ship-state metaphor in Part 6 (The Daughter of Oedipus) in a moment of anguish during his private argument with Antigone. His image of the storm-racked ship is raw and terrifying. He is desperately trying to make Antigone understand his prohibition from burying Polynices. Unlike Sophocles's Creon, who attributes to the gods the storms that rocked the ship-state, Anouilh's king blames the mob: "The beast ... as nameless as the whipping wind." Any action he takes to protect the ship under assault from this mob—and from the "crime, ignorance, and poverty" that follow in their wake—is justified. He evokes the image of firing into the mob to save the ship, a vivid image of state-sanctioned terror that Sophocles's Creon avoids. It's passages like these that led Anouilh's critics to accuse him of collaborationist sympathies; his Creon believes he has no alternative, an argument made by Pétain and his followers.

How does Haemon's reaction to Antigone's death sentence in Part 8 of Antigone reinforce Anouilh's theme about childhood?

Throughout the play Anouilh expresses the theme that youthful idealism can't coexist with the adult's world of compromise. He develops this theme mainly through Antigone's struggle and her symbolism, but at the end of the play in Part 8 (What Have You Done?), Haemon steps forward as a mouthpiece for this view. When Creon condemns Antigone to death, Haemon reacts passionately. He says he can't admire a father who makes speeches and strikes "attitudes," echoing Antigone's criticism of Creon's hollow political expediency. He argues, "We don't have to say 'yes' to this terrible thing," as Antigone did. It's clear up to this moment that just as Antigone idolizes Oedipus, Haemon has idolized his father: "That massive god who used to ... shelter me from shadows and monsters—was that you?" Anouilh's original French text emphasizes Haemon's youthful despair more than Gallantiére's translation; the stage direction has him "crie soudain comme un enfant, se jetant dans ses bras" ("crying out like a child, throwing himself into Creon's arms"). Creon tells Haemon that it's time to "be a man." Haemon's preference for suicide, like Antigone's, reinforces the idea that the child's pure vision of the world can't survive the corrupting influence of age.

In Part 8 of Antigone (What Have You Done?), what is the significance of Creon saying to Haemon, "The story is all over Thebes. I cannot save her now"?

In Part 7 (One Last Appeal) when Antigone makes her defiance public—by shouting out loud—Creon believes he has no choice. He likes to consider himself a just ruler and therefore bound to uphold the law: "I am master under the law. Not above the law." On the other hand, he also knows he can't control the will of the mob: "The mob already knows the truth. It is howling for her blood." It seems clear this second reason is the more compelling one for the politically expedient Creon. It's clear he would have spared Antigone if he could have kept under wraps the acts she had already committed; he tries to compel her to be quiet throughout their long scene together. Though he had already laid down the law, he would have made an exception for the sake of Haemon's happiness. For Creon the will of the mob is as compelling as the gods' laws in Sophocles's version of the play.

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