Skip over navigation

Antigone

Jean Anouilh

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Antigone

Antigone is the play's tragic heroine. In the first moments of the play, Antigone is opposed to her radiant sister Ismene. Unlike her beautiful and docile sister, Antigone is scrawny, sallow, withdrawn, and recalcitrant brat. Like Anouilh's Eurydice, the heroine of his play Eurydice, and Joan of Arc, Antigone has a boyish physique and curses her girlhood. She is the antithesis of the melodramatic heroine, the archetypal blond ingénue as embodied in Ismene. Antigone has always been difficult, terrorizing Ismene as a child, always insisting on the gratification of her desires, refusing to "understand" the limits placed on her. Her envy of Ismene is clear. Ismene is entirely of this world, the object of all men's desires. Thus she will at one point rob Ismene of her feminine accoutrements to seduce her fiancé Haemon. She fails, however, as such human pleasures are not meant for her.

Generally audiences have received Anouilh's Antigone as a figure for French Resistance, Antigone appearing as the young girl who rises up alone against state power. Anouilh's adaptation strips Antigone's act of its moral, political, religious, and filial trappings, allowing it to emerge in all its gratuitousness. In the end, Antigone's tragedy rests in her refusal to cede on her desire. Against all prohibitions and without any just cause, she will bury her brother to the point of her own death. As we learn in her confrontation with Creon, this insistence on her desire locates her in a line of tragic heroes, specifically that of Oedipus. Like Oedipus, her insistence on her desire beyond the limits of reason render her ugly, abject, tabooed. In refusing to cede it, she moves outside the human community. As with Oedipus, it is precisely her moment of abjection, when she has lost all hope, when her tragic beauty emerges. Her beauty exerts a chilling fascination. As Ismene notes, Antigone is not beautiful like the rest, but beautiful in a way that stops children in the street, beautiful in a way that unsettles, frightens, and awes.

Creon

Antigone's uncle, the powerfully built King Creon is a weary, wrinkled man suffering the burdens of rule. Before the deaths of Oedipus and his sons, he dedicated himself to art patronage but has now surrendered himself entirely to the throne. A practical man, he firmly distances himself from the tragic aspirations of Oedipus and his line. As he tells Antigone, his only interest is in political and social order. Creon is bound to ideas of good sense, simplicity, and the banal happiness of everyday life. To Creon, life is but the happiness one makes, the happiness that inheres in a grasped tool, a garden bench, a child playing at one's feet. Uninterested in playing the villain in his niece's tragedy, Creon has no desire to sentence Antigone to death. Antigone is far more useful to Thebes as mother to its heir than as its martyr, and he orders her crime covered-up. Though fond of Antigone, Creon will have no choice but to but to execute her. As the recalcitrant Antigone makes clear, by saying "yes" to state power, Creon has committed himself to acts he finds loathsome if the order of the state demands it. Antigone's insistence on her desire in face of state power brings ruin into Thebes and to Creon specifically. With the death of his family, Creon is left utterly alone in the palace. His throne even robs him of his mourning, the king and his pace sadly shuttling off to a cabinet meeting after the announcement of the family's deaths.

The Chorus

In Greek tragedy, the Chorus consisted of a group of approximately ten people, playing the role of death messenger, dancing, singing, and commenting throughout from the margins of the action. Anouilh reduces the Chorus to a single figure who retains his collective function nevertheless. The Chorus represents an indeterminate group, be it the inhabitants of Thebes or the moved spectators. It also appears as narrator. The Chorus frames the play with a prologue and epilogue, introducing the action and characters under the sign of fatality. We see this fatalism most clearly perhaps its characteristic gesture of demonstration, prefacing many of its remarks with "Et voilà" in the original script. In presenting the tragedy, the Chorus would instruct the audience on proper spectatorship, reappearing at the tragedy's pivotal moments to comment on the action or the nature of tragedy itself. Along with playing narrator, the Chorus also attempts to intercede throughout the play, whether on the behalf of the Theban people or the horrified spectators.

The Guards

The three Guardsmen are interpolations into the Antigone legend, doubles for the rank-and-file fascist collaborators or collabos of Anouilh's day. The card-playing trio, made all the more mindless and indistinguishable in being grouped in three, emerges from a long stage tradition of the dull-witted police officer. As the Chorus notes, they smell of garlic and beer, concern themselves with the mundane, and are in general not bad people. Serving as a spokesman of sorts, the First Guard gives voice to their thoughts: they follow orders, and they cover for themselves when things go wrong. They are eternally indifferent, innocent, and ready to serve whatever powers that be. In other words, they have no particular loyalty to Creon. As the Chorus indicates, they would arrest him if need be. This indifference makes them brutal and dangerous. Some critics have taken Anouilh's guards, which stand in contrast to the royal heroes of tragedy, as the clearest manifestation of his "aristocratic pessimism."

Importantly, the Guards also figure as inappropriate spectators: men left entirely untouched by the tragedy that unfolds before them. The Chorus makes this especially clear in the prologue and epilogue, where the trio appears idly playing cards. As the Chorus notes, the tragedy is "no skin of their backs." In this respect, the indifferent trio recalls the guardsmen from Anouilh's other tragedies, such as the guard whose chatter about the harvest close his Medea.

Are you ready for the test?
Quick Quiz   →

More Help

Previous Next
Quiz Me!

by TheRAGINATOR, September 26, 2012

Where is the review quiz for Antigone? I like having review quizzes since it helps me see what I know and what I do not know. Once I take a quiz I can go back and see what I do not understand about this play and review.

0 Comments

40 out of 58 people found this helpful

Hogwash!

by TheRAGINATOR, September 27, 2012

If you read the play Antigone by Sophocles this sparknote does not help at all. Cliff notes is better for Antigone by Sophocles. I love sparknotes and I think that it is AMAZING! But this note is not helpful and is terrible if you read the play by Sophocles.

2 Comments

37 out of 52 people found this helpful

Re: Hogwash!

by 52beca, December 27, 2012

Well of course this isn't helpful if you're reading the Sophocles version. If you bothered to look at the title, then you would have seen that this is Jean Anouilh's version of Antigone, written in France, during World War II.

0 Comments

10 out of 11 people found this helpful

See all 4 readers' notes   →

Follow Us