There are certain qualities that a character must possess in order to qualify as a tragic hero. Ideally, the subject is to be a person of high rank, so that they may have much to lose. (Most frequently a monarch or patriarch is used.) Granted, Antigone is a member of the royal bloodline. But we must not forget that she is the daughter of incest, hardly a glamorous position to start with. In Oedipus Rex, Antigone was indirectly disgraced, while Creon was socially elevated by inheriting kingship from Oedipus. Also, Creon’s being king comparatively trumps Antigone’s lesser status of orphaned princess. While this in itself objectively proves nothing, it does at a minimum make Creon the more likely choice of protagonist.
Another essential component of a tragic hero is that of the tragic flaw, the one attribute that causes the inevitable downfall of the character. A case could be made for Antigone’s hamartia being stubbornness. She is called stubbornly wild in the play by both Creon: “This girl was an old hand at insolence” (1280) and by the chorus leader: “She hasn’t learned to bend before adversity.” (1279). Yet the judgment of critics shouldn’t be taken for absolute truth. Looking at her actions and personality impartially tells a bit of a different story. A trademark of the stubborn personality type is not merely to argue in the face of antagonism, but to maintain legitimacy even after being proven incorrect. There is no evidence to support that Antigone would act in such a manner, were she proven wrong. In fact, everyone except the king reinforces her righteousness. Haemon, the chorus, Ismene, the gods, and Tiresias all agree that Antigone has justice on her side, and deserves no punishment. Thus, she is cleared of having any real character deficiency. She does the right thing, and for the right reasons. Creon, on the other hand, possesses that much-loved classic flaw: hubris, as Sophocles says. Creon’s pride clouds his judgment and blocks out the good sense of Haemon and Tiresias, two sources that even the king should know have no ulterior angles. Arrogance is often an offshoot of personal insecurity. Being a new king, Creon felt he had to prove himself as an authoritarian, and decided to make an example out of Antigone’s insurrection. He has made a hasty, erroneous decision, and, even though he’s coming to see that it was a mistake, he refuses time after time to back down, so that when he finally does, it’s too late. As a result, he winds up losing his only remaining son, his wife, and probably the respect of the people he rules. This poor judgment, dictated by ego, was destined to ruin Creon from the outset.
Tragedies always end with an ironic reversal of fortunes, leaving the unfortunate exalted and the respected belittled. Since the tragic hero starts out with everything, he or she must end up with nothing. By the end of Antigone, Creon has lost his family, his kingdom, and his will to live, but is doomed to live on with the knowledge that he is the sole cause of all his pain. Antigone does in fact lose her life, but she does so with honor. From the beginning, Antigone was clearly seeking execution: “Even if I die in the act, that death will be a glory” (1269). Antigone has gained the good graces of the people and the gods. The audience does not pity her because she has accomplished the burial of her brother, and she can now rest beside him.
The final element of the tragic hero of a Greek drama is the realization of faults and bad choices. Antigone had no such epiphany, simply because she did no wrong. Antigone needs no redemption because she has committed no great misdeed. Creon, however, comes to see his grave mistakes after he has fallen from grace. Creon repents, and is even brought to the verge of suicide. Like all tragic heroes, he can only realize his vice once everything has been taken away from him.
So who was meant to be the lead character of Antigone? Antigone. So who is the lead character of Antigone? Creon. Somewhere along the line, Sophocles found a more complex story in the insecure king than in the defiant noblewoman. Using Aristotle’s outline of Greek tragedy (which ironically was primarily based on Sophocles), Creon is the only character who meets the criteria. Creon started from the highest position, suffered the greatest net losses, and possessed the only inarguable flaw. Titles aside, the literary content speaks for itself.
Adams, S. M. Sophocles the Playwright. Toronto: Toronto U P, 1957.
Buxton, R. G. A. Sophocles. London: Oxford UP, 1984. Print.
Goheen, Robert F. The Imagery of Sophocles’ Antigone: A Study of Poetic Language and
Structure. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1951. Print.
Kluth, Frederick J. “Antigone and Her Impact on Greek Art and Culture.” America Online.
Internet. 24 July 2000: 2, 9-10. Web.
Knox, Bernard M. W. “Ancient Greece and the Formation of the Western Mind.” The Norton
Anthology of World Masterpieces. Ed. Maynard Mack. New York: Norton, 1995: 585-
Sophocles. “Antigone.” The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Ed. Knox and Mack.
New York: Norton, 1995: 632-67. Print.
Webster, T. B. L. An Introduction to Sophocles. 2nd edition. London: Methuen, 1969. Print.
Whitman, Cedric H. Sophocles: A Study of Heroic Humanism. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1951.
Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for Antigone by Sophocles that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in Antigone and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of Antigone by Sophocles in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from Antigone at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Agency Versus Inaction in Antigone
Ismene and Antigone vary greatly in their respective attributes, Ismene is breathtakingly beautiful, while Antigone is plain; Antigone is brave while Ismene is frightened. The core difference between the two of them lies in Antigone’s willingness to create change and Ismene’s hope that she can make it through life without creating waves. This difference manifests itself most brilliantly in the burial of Polynices. Antigone is willing to risk anything to have her brother buried with honor, while Ismene worries solely for the safety of her sister. This behavior continues throughout the novel, with Ismene acceding to Creon’s demands, and Antigone taking brave but stupid risks. In the end of the play, Antigone even takes her life in her own terms. What can be said about the desire to make life happen, the ability to not sit idly by? Does Sophocles seem to advocate this position, despite the death of Antigone?Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Function of the Chorus in Antigone
For most plays, the role of the Chorus involves a small number of people, usually between 7-12, who make commentary on the unfolding events and serve as foreshadowers to the action to come. They are usually apart from the action, yet also apart from the audience; they function best as an uninvolved narrator. However, in Antigone, the chorus breaks most literary conventions. Instead of being portrayed as a group of people, the chorus is merely one person, who aligns himself with the audience. He quite frequently refers to the audience and himself as the collective “we" and by doing so, makes the audience a part of his chorus. Why is this important? What feelings towards the play are created when the audience takes on the role of the chorus?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Antigone and Sisterhood
The rivalry between Ismene and Antigone is strong, because both girls are similar in age with very contrasting personalities. Antigone is decisive, moody, brave and impulsive, while Ismene is beautiful, timid and beautiful. The two are set up as classic “good girl" and “bad girl" stereotypes, with Antigone eventually tying Ismene to a tree, and stealing her sister’s makeup and other items to make herself more attractive to Haemon. However, despite this fierce rivalry between the two sisters, when Creon is threatening Ismene with death and imprisonment if she does not stop her attempts to bury her brother, Ismene is quick to jump to her defense, stating that if Creon locks Antigone up, Ismene will simply take over and die alongside her for their treason. What can be said about the juxtaposition of their past relationship and Ismene’s sudden willingness to die for Antigone? Is their rivalry perhaps less fierce than expected because of their bond of sisterhood?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Individual Versus the State in Antigone
The role of the individual in Antigone is very important. Obviously, Antigone herself is a strong individual character, who is not willing to allow her brother to be dishonored, no matter what the cost is to her own body. Creon is also a strong character, and while he knows the law and is convinced that he must follow it, he has sympathetic feelings for Antigone and tries to get her out of trouble. In which ways are Creon and Antigone both destroyed by the power of the law? How do they try to get around the laws that have been set down by Creon, and in which ways do they fail at that attempt? What is the meaning behind their failures?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: Tragedy in Antigone
As the reader progresses through Antigone, it becomes obvious by the plot twists that the play is a tragedy at heart. However, to make the nature of the play even more clear, the Chorus appears halfway through the production to tell the audience that the tragedy has begun. This statement proves the inevitability of the coming tragic events, and takes the pressure off of the characters to attempt to stop such things from occurring.
This list of important quotations from Antigone by Sophocles will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Antigone listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for Antigone above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Sophocles they are referring to.
“I didn't say yes. I can say no to anything I say vile, and I don't have to count the cost. But because you said yes, all that you can do, for all your crown and your trappings, and your guards—all that your can do is to have me killed." (18)
“My nails are broken, my fingers are bleeding, my arms are covered with the welts left by the paws of your guards—but I am a queen!" (19)
“If Haemon reaches the point where he stops growing pale with fear when I grow pale, stops thinking that I must have been killed in an accident when I am five minutes late, stops feeling that he is alone on earth when I laugh and he doesn't know why—if he too has to learn to say yes to everything—why, no, then, no! I do not love Haemon!" (14)
“As for those three red-faced card players—they are the guards. One smells of garlic, another of beer; but they're not a bad lot. They have wives they are afraid of, kids who are afraid of them; they're bothered by the little day-to- day worries that beset us all. At the same time—they are policemen: eternally innocent, no matter what crimes are committed; eternally indifferent, for nothing that happens can matter to them. They are quite prepared to arrest anybody at all, including Creon himself, should the order be given by a new leader." (17)
“Every kind of stillness. The hush when the executioner's ax goes up at the end of the last act. The unbreathable silence when, at the beginning of the play, the two lovers, their hearts bared, their bodies naked, stand for the first time face to face in the darkened room, afraid to stir. The silence inside you when the roaring crowd acclaims the winner—so that you think of a film without a sound track, mouths agape and no sound coming out of them, a clamor that is not more than picture; and you, the victor, already vanquished, alone in the desert of your silence. That is tragedy." (9)
“I'm simply powerless to act against this city's law.” (11)
“I intend to give my brother burial. I'll be glad to die in the attempt,– if it's a crime, then it's a crime that God commands.” (7)
“Isn't a man's right to burial decreed by divine justice? I don't consider your pronouncements so important that they can just.overrule the unwritten laws of heaven.”(12)
“These signs portend evil for Thebes; and the trouble stems from your policy. Why? Because our altars are polluted by flesh brought be dogs and birds, picking from Polynices' corpse. Small wonder that the gods won't accept our sacrifices.” (18)
Source: Sophocles, Antigone. New York: Ivan R. Dee, 1998.