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Antigone | Study Guide

Jean Anouilh

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Antigone | Symbols



Anouilh's heroine acts out a symbolic struggle to remain pure in a corrupt world—symbolic because her actual goal, burying Polynices, is of questionable value. After all, God is absent from the play, and her brother was a lout. But she must do it, because, as the Chorus says, "when your name is Antigone, there is only one part you can play." Though Antigone herself symbolizes purity, she is not a static character. She is by turns childish, passionate, ugly, needling, questioning, and finally, hopeless. Although she embraces her symbolic role, she does not control it. In the end, by admitting she doesn't know what she is dying for she seems at her most human—and her most tragic, trapped as she is in a symbolic role she doesn't feel sure about.


Anouilh's Creon is a symbol of pragmatism or the act of approaching problems practically. The Chorus tells the audience he is like a "conscientious workman." His politically expedient approach to governing places him in direct conflict with Antigone. Antigone sees him as hopelessly compromised; he sees her as infuriatingly stubborn. Still he sees in his own tarnished image the youth who once saw the world as Antigone does. If Antigone were to live, this is what she would become.

Child's Spade

In a play relatively free of props, the spade with which Antigone tries to bury Polynices certainly stands out. Polynices gave the spade to Antigone, so it has sentimental value for her. His name is carved on its wooden handle; he used to use it when they played on the seashore. The spade also has symbolic value for the audience. It's a child's toy, hopelessly ill suited to the task of digging a grave. Antigone's use of the spade underscores the futility of her task and highlights her youthfulness. The symbolism suggests that Antigone isn't competent to make the very serious choice that she does in defying Creon.

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