Much like Sophocles’s Antigone, Anouilh’s Antigone explores the dissonance between state law and moral consciousness as well as the tragic heroism of self-sacrifice. This 1944 adaptation draws from the story and themes of the original Greek play, but Anouilh modernizes the structure and the tone in order to emphasize the narrative’s continued significance in the twentieth century. Antigone still buries her brother, Polynices, despite Creon’s decree that anyone who tries to honor him will be put to death. While the initial justification she gives for her transgression is related to the obligation she feels toward her brother, her battle with Creon eventually devolves into a fight over the ability to follow her moral code without compromise. Leaving behind the more spiritual and familial focus of Sophocles’s tragedy allows Anouilh to consider the importance of challenging injustice more broadly, a choice which leads many scholars to view the play as a representation of the French Resistance during World War II. Antigone may be in direct conflict with Creon, but her true goal is to live according to her own instincts and moral code. Antigone’s struggle to stand up for what she believes in, regardless of the consequences, is ultimately the play’s central conflict.

Many of the major structural adaptations that Anouilh makes to Sophocles’s Antigone are evident even as the play begins, and these changes work to heighten the stakes of the tragic events about to unfold. Rather than beginning with an expository scene between Antigone and Ismene as Sophocles does, Anouilh allows the Chorus, a role played by a single actor, to introduce all of the characters to the audience and explain exactly how the narrative will end. This choice reveals that Antigone is doomed from the start and emphasizes the power of fate, an idea which Sophocles incorporates through repeated appeals to the gods. When the play proper finally begins, the Nurse, a new character who brings a comforting, maternal quality to the scene, chastises Antigone for being up and awake so early in the morning. As Antigone slowly reveals, she has already made her first attempt to bury Polynices’s body. By placing the tragedy’s inciting incident before the narrative even begins, Anouilh removes any hope that Antigone can alter her course of action. Not only does this choice align with the Chorus’s assessment of fate, but it also emphasizes the unwavering determination of Antigone’s character as she does not give anyone the opportunity to change her mind.

The play’s rising action unfolds as Antigone, who knows that she will die for her actions, attempts to explain her position to her loved ones and defend herself in front of Creon. She first argues with her sister, Ismene, who tries to convince her that abiding by Creon’s laws is the rational and responsible thing to do. This scene introduces the sisters’ rivalry into the play, a key theme which comments on the stifling aspects of femininity. Another source of external pressure that challenges Antigone’s commitment to her criminal act is her love for Haemon, and Anouilh adds a scene between them early in the play in order to further develop their relationship. By showing the audience the love that Antigone is sacrificing in order to follow her convictions, Anouilh is able to emphasize just how high a cost her actions will have. Nevertheless, Antigone returns to bury her brother again, and Creon’s guards seize her. The Chorus’s interjection at this pivotal moment serves as a call back to the Odes present in the original tragedy, and the notion of fate appears once again as a means of highlighting Antigone’s unwavering persistence. As she finally confronts Creon, this sense of resolve emerges in full force as she emphasizes her desire to abide by her own moral code and criticizes Creon’s simplistic worldview.

Antigone’s fight with Creon continues to build until he becomes so frustrated that he vows to kill her, fulfilling the fate that the Chorus prophesied in the opening moments of the play. Creon initially tries to protect Antigone from this gruesome ending, and although this act may seem altruistic, letting Antigone live would make his own life simpler and allow him to maintain social order in the kingdom. She refuses to stop attempting to bury her brother, however, and she declares that she would rather die than be forced to live a life of compromises. Enraged by her stubbornness, the climax of the play occurs when Creon calls in the guards to take Antigone to her death. The falling action follows Antigone as she grapples with the reality of her actions. Although she knew that Creon would put her to death, she begins to express fear and doubt about her motivations. These doubts ultimately have no impact on the trajectory of her narrative as she hangs herself before the guards fully enclose her in the cave meant to be her tomb. Antigone gives her life in order to avoid compromising on her beliefs, and this tragic act of heroism drives Haemon and his mother, Eurydice, to kill themselves as well. In the end, Creon is left to grapple with his empty life.