Wednesday, October 20, 2021


I received my grade for the first essay I wrote for the Love and Friendship module, and received kinda positive feedback from the professor I'm absolutely in love with, so I'm pretty much floating on a cloud right now. The disclaimer I would like to make is, my writing does not necessarily reflect my views, I have been called stubborn and inflexible on more than one occasion. But one can always learn and grow, I guess? :)

The dynamic between Creon and the titular character, Antigone, in Sophocles’ play is an ideal representation of the question “what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” In the play, the answers are: death and destruction. This is why I posit, based on an investigation of Creon’s and Antigone’s characters in the text, that wisdom is embodied in flexibility, a trait that neither protagonist possesses, until it is too late for both of them.  

Antigone’s singular action, of disobeying Creon’s explicit orders and going on to bury her brother Polyneices, is the driving force for why the play takes place, so we begin by examining Antigone’s character and her interactions. When she first confides in Ismene about her plans, and asks Ismene for help, Antigone poses the question “Are you true to your birth? Or a coward?” (38), therefore betraying the first instance in which she thinks in terms of binaries. Antigone thinks Ismene is true to her birth only if she assists with the burial, anything else would brand Ismene as a coward and nothing more in Antigone’s eyes. 

At the outset of the play, Ismene literally advises Antigone to “think carefully, my sister” (49) and in the following lines (50-67), Ismene proceeds to enumerate the great calamities that have befallen their family, following the Oedipal curse. However, Antigone ignores her sister’s laments and retaliates with “I wouldn’t even let you help if you had a change of heart” (69). Much later in the play, Antigone proclaims “I won’t accept a friend who’s only friends in words” (543). She does not want to divide the burden with Ismene, and Antigone has been stubborn through the entire text.

Despite the fact that Ismene has outlined her valid apprehension, Antigone provokes her with “Go on, make excuses. I am on my way” (80). This depicts the fact that Antigone is so unaccommodating, not only does she want to do the burial, she does not consider her sister’s legitimate fear and concerns, and calls them excuses.

Toward the end of this first dialogue, Antigone professes to Ismene, “You’ll be more enemy to me / If you are silent. Proclaim it to the world!” (86) and “When you say this, you set yourself against me” (93). Antigone sees the world in black and white, Ismene is either with her or against her, there is no space to negotiate anything in between. 

Even when Ismene tries to console Antigone and accompany her in a crucial, frightening moment, when the antihero is headed toward certain death, Antigone rejects her in line 546, with: “Don’t say you did it. You wouldn’t even touch it. Now leave my death alone!” Antigone is the picture-perfect definition of being an immovable object.

While we have scrutinized Antigone to her literal death, as a foil to her character, Ismene maintains: “But I gave you reasons not to make that choice” (556). Ismene has considered the minute details of the situation and was flexible enough not to think in binaries, thereby displaying wisdom in that she has not courted her own death.

We first examine Creon through the lines “...if anyone tries to run a city on the basis of bad policies… That man is terrible / So I have always thought” (176) and “I will never hold my tongue about what I see. I will never call a man my friend / If he is hostile to this land” (185). Here we see that Creon also subscribes to potentially false dichotomies, he uses the words always and never, peppering them frequently through his speeches, without considering the in-betweens of life. In the same tirade, Creon asserts, “They are the ones, I’m absolutely sure who used bribes / To lead our watchmen astray” (290), declaring statements that have no factual justification, yet with conviction of their veracity.

In lines 485-487, “...if she’s not punished… Then I am not a man… I don’t care if she is my sister’s child,” Creon believes it would reflect well on him that he would treat even his niece, to whom his own son is betrothed, with cold objectivity, but it further isolates him as being obstinate and unfeeling.

In his intense back-and-forth dialogue with Haemon, Creon utters the lines, “So you think the people should tell me what orders to give?” (734) as well as “So I should rule this country for someone other than myself?” (736). He is purposefully being provocative and inflammatory, although Haemon has been cautiously trying to advise him. This culminates in Creon accusing Haemon of a threat. Haemon then asks, “What threat? All I’m saying is, you haven’t thought this through” (752), followed by Creon’s retort of “I’ll make you wish you’d never had a thought in your empty head!” (754). 

While Ismene is the foil to her sister Antigone, Haemon acts in much the same way for his father Creon. Haemon contends, beginning in line 688, “My natural duty’s to look out for you, spot any risk… The common man, you see, lives in terror of your frown; He’ll never dare to speak up in broad daylight… But I’m the one who hears what’s said at night… This sort of talk moves against you, quietly, at night.” Through this little monologue, we see that Haemon possesses the flexibility to respect Creon yet is also privy to the real opinions of Thebes’ common folk, and this provides Haemon the wisdom of knowing what is really happening. Conversely, because Creon has ruled through fear, he has never had the wisdom of knowing what people really believe about him.

While Creon is bitterly embattled against Tiresias, he complains, “ people keep shooting arrows at me…/ Like marksmen at a target” (1035). Instead of realising that the many approaches of advice for him indicates a necessity for reflection on what he could be doing better, Creon feels attacked and does not benefit from any counsel.

Once Tiresias has revealed Haemon’s impending death, Creon protests “It’s so painful to pull back; it goes against my heart” (1105). If Creon had been flexible, it would not have been so painful for him to pull back, before the last minute. It is only for Creon and Antigone, whose identities revolved around their stubbornness, that it would be excruciatingly painful to change a stance, because they held their beliefs so close, so dear, and so important to themselves. For people whom such stances are fluid, these decisions would not weigh so heavy on their hearts.

As we approach the play’s conclusion, Creon’s expressions take the forms of “You were expelled from life / By my bad judgment, never yours” (1265), “Why don’t you kill me now? / My misery is so huge” (1309), and “I killed you, poor child…/ I’m worth less than a nobody” (1319). We have now seen Creon lose everyone who was dear to him, and suffer much pain that could have been narrowly avoided, if he had simply acted sooner. Having seen Antigone lose her life, and Creon lose everything of value in his life, both due to their extreme tunnel vision and single-mindedness, we can infer that flexibility is indeed a form of wisdom, which you would do poorly to lack in life.

This was her feedback:

Sarah Mei,

You have a wonderful, expressive writing voice, and there is excellent use of evidence in this essay. A couple of things that would improve a future draft: clarifying the thesis to be more specific and following from your particular analysis of the play. For example, perhaps something about how thinking in binaries/dichotomies leads the characters to adopt an all-or-nothing rigidity. Having a specified thesis would then help to organize your body paragraphs into micro theses that support this over-arching claim. 

Another key thing is to be sure to begin new paragraphs with a claim or a micro-thesis that tells the reader how the evidence that follows is building toward the main thesis. With these two edits, this would become an outstanding paper.  78/B+

(I have made in-text notes on docx file)

No comments: