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Creon murmurs that Antigone must hate him. He has long imagined this conversation, seeing a white-faced boy who would come to assassin him and, despite all Creon's efforts, would only tell him he despised him. He cannot believe that boy is Antigone, coming to him over something so meaningless as Polynices's burial. "Meaningless!" Antigone repeats contemptuously.
Creon makes a final appeal that he will tell her the story he alone knows. Antigone sits. He asks her to remember her childhood—how her brothers would torment her and then, when they were older, they would come home late in evening clothes and smoking cigarettes. She must have known they were making her parents unhappy. Staring outward, Antigone recalls how a handsome Polynices once gave her a paper nightclub flower; Creon knows she must have looked to it for courage last night. Polynices, however, was but a "cruel, vicious little voluptuary." Creon recounts how he saw him strike his father once when he refused to settle his gambling debts. Antigone insists that he is lying.
Creon continues and says that Oedipus was too cowardly to imprison him, so he let him join the Argive army. As soon as Polynices reached Argos, the attempts on Oedipus's life began. The assassins confessed the identities of their employees. Creon needs Antigone to understand what goes on in the "kitchen of politics," the wings of her drama. Yesterday he gave Eteocles a state funeral, making him Thebes's martyr. He had no choice: he could not afford a story of two gangsters after a civil war. But Eteocles to plotted to overthrow his father. Both brothers were gangsters, fighting over the spoils of Thebes. When Creon sent for their bodies, they were found mashed together in a bloody pulp. He had the prettier one brought in, but he does not know which was buried.
Creon could not have Antigone die a victim to that "obscene story." Antigone murmurs that she at least had her faith. Dazed, she raises to go her room. Creon urges her to find Haemon and marry quickly, since she has her life before her. A moment ago, he hear himself in her words, the young, pale Creon whose mind was too filled with thoughts of self-sacrifice. She must not waste her life: the child playing at her feet, the tool, or the bench in the garden. Life is but the happiness you get out of it.
Quietly, Antigone challenges him to paint the happy Antigone. She loves Haemon now, but if what she loves in Haemon is to be worn away by Creon's happiness, she will not love Haemon. She laughs at Creon because she sees the impotence he must have had at fifteen. Creon attempts to silence her. Antigone curses his happiness and she refuses his humdrum moderation. Creon tells her to scream on in her father's voice. Antigone cries that she is of the tribe that asks questions, that hates man's filthy, docile, female, and whorish hope. Father was ugly like her but became beautiful at the very end, when his questions were answered, when he could no longer doubt his crime, when all hope was gone.
Creon makes his final appeal. The play imagines it as a story he alone knows, a story left unwritten in Antigone's tragic legend. It remains unwritten because it takes place in its wings, in what Creon describes as the "kitchen of politics." Creon proceeds to systematically demystify Antigone's beloved brothers as brutish, traitorous gangsters, boys who brought their family grief, attempted to assassinate their father, and threatened the kingdom with ruin. More chillingly, Creon has had one declared a martyr and another a traitor for political purposes. Only this slight-of-hand would resolve the civil war and bring order back to Thebes. Creon is not even sure who has been left unburied. This unveiling of the politics at work in the tragedy's wings, the machinations that more closely pass themselves off as the historical account that might accompany the tragedy's events, robs Antigone's act of all justification. As she tells Creon, she has lost her faith. Later she will confess she no longer knows why she must die.
Antigone's act and march to death are now entirely gratuitous. Her insistence on her tragic fate reveals that their political, moral, filial, and religious motivations were entirely external. Again, what drives Antigone is her desire. Thus Creon offers the dazed Antigone the promise of human happiness: the pleasure in the banalities of the garden bench, the child playing at one's feet, and the tool in one's hand. This vision of human happiness provokes Antigone's final, fatal explosion. She refuses to moderate herself—she will have everything as beautiful as it was when she was a child or die. If Haemon and she stop thinking the other is dead when one is five minutes late or if he stops feeling utterly alone in the world when she laughs without his knowing why, she does not love him. Antigone insists on her desire in its unmeasured, infantile form.
Read more about how Antigone acts in terms of her desire.
This insistence on her desire makes her monstrous. Once again, Creon tells Antigone to scream on in her father's voice, leading Antigone comes to claim her invoke her lineage against him. Again, against the common reading of the Antigone legend as a play about the conflict between family and state or public and private, Antigone does not appeal to Oedipus here in some sense of filial loyalty. She does so because Oedipus is the model of her abjection. Oedipus was ugly as she. Like Oedipus, however, she will become beautiful at the moment when he lost all hope, at the moment of his total ruin, the moment when he passed beyond the human community in his transgression of its founding taboo.
Read more about the motif of tragic beauty.
Here Creon also introduces the figure of the thin and pale youth, the assassin whom Creon has long expected. As he tells Antigone, this assassin would remain impervious to all argument, replying to the king with his hatred alone. This youth clearly evokes the fantasmic rebel Creon first imagined upon the discovery of Polynices' shovel. To Creon's surprise, this youth has revealed himself to be Antigone. He is also, however, a double for Creon, or rather, a figure for Creon's adolescent self. Thus Creon hears his youthful voice in Antigone's. He sees in Antigone a self similarly committed to self-sacrifice. Perhaps this self could have also been the present Creon's enemy and assassin. Whatever the case, Antigone smashes this self-image that Creon sees in her body, insisting upon her radical alterity or otherness. Refusing to reflect his self-image, she laughs at Creon because she sees the same impotence he must have had as a boy.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Antigone!