HomeLiterature Study GuidesAntigonePart 6 The Daughter Of Oedipus Summary

Antigone | Study Guide

Jean Anouilh

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Antigone | Part 6 (The Daughter of Oedipus) | Summary

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Summary

Once Creon determines Antigone really is guilty as charged, he tries to understand her motive. She says she owes Polynices a burial because he is her brother; his soul doesn't deserve to wander for eternity. Creon responds that Polynices was a rebel and a traitor. He assumes that she risked burying Polynices because she believes she, as the daughter of a queen, can get away with it. But Antigone assures Creon she knows he will have her killed. Next he rails against her pride, the "pride of Oedipus," for whom "mere human misery was not enough to satisfy his passion for torment." Creon then declares Thebes doesn't need this kind of king; he is a new kind of king—one who sees his job as a trade. Antigone ignores all of this and proceeds back to the city gate to bury Polynices. She knows it is a hopeless cause but says, "That much, at least, I can do."

Next Creon interrogates Antigone's faith; does she really believe in the priests' "jibber-jabber"? She admits she has no respect for their "mumbling ministrations." Both agree "the whole thing is absurd," and Antigone finally admits she is intent on burying her brother "for nobody. For myself," and she tells Creon he cannot save her or stop her. "You are going to have to put me to death."

Now Creon becomes physically threatening; he is determined not to be "one of your preposterous little tyrants"; but in his determination to discover Antigone's motive, he squeezes her arm so hard she can't feel it anymore.

Creon is also desperate to make Antigone see his point of view. The whole business with Polynices is political, he says, part of the job that was foisted on him. He agreed to be king to introduce "a little order into this absurd kingdom," though he would have preferred not to. Antigone responds, "Then you should have said 'no.'"

Creon reacts with frustration: Can't Antigone see Thebes is a sinking ship, and as captain it is his job to do everything in his power to save it? Desperate times call for desperate measures. He berates her easy choice: "It's easy to say 'no' ... All you have to do is sit still and wait." Saying yes, he argues, is hard. It requires action. Saying yes is also natural: imagine if trees and animals said no. Antigone responds: "What a king you could be if only men were animals!"

Analysis

Creon is not an unsympathetic character in these passages, and he makes some good arguments. For the moment he has the upper hand, mainly because Antigone by and large refuses to engage with him.

When Creon contrasts himself with Oedipus, he mentions a "wild and bearded messenger" who revealed Oedipus's curse. Creon says if such a messenger did show up, he would tell him to "go back where he came from." He has no sympathy for the romantic, mythical view of kings. His practical view of leadership contrasts with the mythic view shared by Oedipus, who became obsessed with a prophecy, and by Antigone, who would sacrifice everything for pride's sake. Creon would decline to get embroiled in the obsessions that destroyed Oedipus, he says, because "Kings ... have other things to do than to surrender themselves to their private feelings." Yet paradoxically his feelings for Antigone compel him to make her see his point of view.

Creon's critique of the priests who perform burial rites, the only extended discussion of religion in the play, does not paint a flattering portrait of the clergy. Antigone admits she would have despised the funeral rites if they'd been performed for Polynices, thus drawing a huge distinction between Anouilh's Antigone and Sophocles's. Religious duty is a key motivation for the heroine of the Greek play; not so for Anouilh's Antigone. But even when this rationalization has been stripped away, she stands firm in her resolve. She is determined to play her role and wants Creon to play his. Though he is an omnipotent king, he cannot avoid killing her.

Creon is falling into the role Antigone sees for him. Even as he is determined not to behave like a tyrant, he is hurting her. His painful grasp on her is symbolic, too. He can't force her to see his point of view: the harder he squeezes, the less she feels.

As Antigone sees it, Creon sealed his fate when he said yes to being king. He claims he doesn't want to kill Antigone; he values his son's happiness. But from the moment he began trying to introduce "a little order into this absurd kingdom" (as he puts it), he compromised his values, which forced him to make unsavory decisions for political expediency. "You are too fastidious to make a good tyrant," she tells him, adding he will have to kill her anyway. Creon's and Antigone's positions would have looked familiar to audiences in German-occupied Paris. Many who collaborated with the occupiers sympathized with Creon's yes. And while very few French were active members of the resistance—it was a desperately risky undertaking—many sympathized with Antigone's passionate no.

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