Antigone and Ismene
The personalities of the two sisters; Antigone and Ismene, are as
different from one another as tempered steel is from a ball of cotton. One is
hard and resistant; the other: pliable, absorbing and soft. Antigone would
have been a strong, successful 90’s type woman with her liberated and strong
attitude towards her femininity, while Ismene seems to be a more dependent
1950’s style woman. Antigone acts as a free spirit, a defiant individual,
while Ismene is content to recognize her own limitations and her inferiority of
being a woman.
In the Greek tragedy “Antigone”, by Sophocles; Antigone learns that
King Creon has refused to give a proper burial for the slain Polyneices,
brother of Ismene and Antigone. Infuriated by this injustice, Antigone shares
the tragic news with Ismene. From her first response, “No, I have heard
nothing”(344). Ismene reveals her passivity and helplessness in the light of
Creon’s decree. Thus, from the start, Ismene is characterized as traditionally
“feminine”, a helpless woman that pays no mind to political affairs. Doubting
the wisdom of her sisters plan to break the law and bury Polyneices, Ismene
We who are women should not contend with men;
we who are weak are ruled by the stronger, so that
we must obey….(346)
Once again Ismene’s words clearly state her weak, feminine character and
helplessness within her own dimensions. Antigone, not happy with her sisters
response chides her sister for not participating in her crime and for her
passivity, saying, ” Set your own life in order”(346). For Antigone, no law
could stand in the way of her strong consideration of her brother’s spirit, not
even the punishment of an early death. Ismene is more practical ; knowing the
task is impossible, she feels the situation to be hopeless.
It is a wonder, which of the two sisters are really guilty of these
chronic charges. Of coarse, Antigone acted so quickly, and failed to take the
advice of the moderate sister, Ismene. Instead, going against Creon’s words,
Antigone rashly goes ahead and breaks the law. Antigone is a fool, she must
learn that such defiance, even when justified, is not conductive to longevity.
Although Antigone is foolish, she is also courageous and motivated by her
morals. Proper burial of the dead was, according to the Greeks, prerequisite
for the souls entrance into a permanent home. Therefore, perhaps Ismene is
also foolish for her quick refusal to help Antigone perform the duty of
Polyneices proper burial. Ismene definitely seems hasty in her acceptance of
personal weakness. Perhaps in some way, both sisters are guilty of the same
tragic sins. Perhaps it is this rashness, more subdued in Ismene’s case, that
leads both sisters to their own destruction.
To my surprise, there is a strange twist in both sister’s character
towards the end of the play. Antigone makes a rather contrasting statement,
“Not for my children, had I been a mother, Not for a husband, for his moldering
body, Would i have set myself against the city As I have done”(368) These
words defy rational explanation. To judge from her attitude towards authority
and law, Antigone would probably take on any task to preserve family dignity
and human justice. In Ismene’s final words, she abandons her practical
attitudes with a sudden rush of devotion towards the sister she abandoned in
time of need. “Let me stand beside you and do honor the dead”(358). Ismene
heroically takes a stand and shares Antigone’s crime.
The two sister’s were crushed by the vindictive Creon, yet they were
winners in spirit, in their determination , they died together, as one.
Nobility shall live in their hearts forever.