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Justice in Antigone

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Sometimes for justice to be served, it means a lot of sacrifice and patience. In this lesson, we will examine justice in the play ''Antigone'' and see what it takes for the play's wrongs to be righted.

The Satisfaction of Justice

We have all encountered situations where we feel justice must be served. Maybe it's being punished by a parent for something a sibling did, or maybe a friend wronged you and you want them to do the morally right thing and apologize. Whatever it may be, we can all agree that when things work out for us in the end, when the good guy wins, we feel satisfied.

In the play Antigone by Sophocles, there are several characters that want the wrongs against them righted, but when each side feels they have the morally right position, how can anything get resolved? Let's take a look at the conflicts the characters face in the play and see how justice is served, with the reader left to question if it's truly served.

Antigone and Polyneices

Antigone had two brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles, and a sister named Ismene. After their father Oedipus exiled himself from Thebes, the two brothers were to split the throne, but when Eteocles refused to give up his time in power, Polyneices left the city and later returned with an army to overthrow Eteocles. During this battle, both men died, leaving their two sisters behind. The next male in line for the throne was their Uncle Creon.

When Creon came to power, he decreed that since Polyneices was technically a traitor for fighting against Thebes, his body should rot in the street without a proper burial. If anyone was to bury the body, the punishment would be death. Antigone is horrified by this order and feels she must do what is just and right -- bury the body of her brother so that his soul will go to the Underworld.

Antigone is depicted burying her brother Polyneices to right the wrong of Creon.
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Antigone does what she felt was morally right and buried the body of her brother. And who wouldn't? Would you be OK with letting your loved one decay in a field after battling for personal justice? Antigone felt justified in her actions based on the beliefs of her culture and society, so much so that she risked her life to do the task, welcoming death in the process.

But there is another side to this story with reasonable arguments just like Antigone's.

Creon and Antigone

Because Polyneices left Thebes and fought against his own people, Creon felt he was justified in not burying Polyneices' body. Fighting against one's home and family is a major no-no in Greek antiquity, so Creon sees his order and punishment as the right and honorable thing to do. He believed his actions were morally right and the best option for maintaining control over Thebes.

But Creon also felt wronged by Antigone since she knowingly went against his orders, and like Antigone, Creon had his reasons to be upset. He is the king and the male leader of the family, and per Greek culture, this meant the women of the house owed him respect. Creon wanted justice against whomever buried Polyneices' body, but when he finds out Antigone is the culprit, he has a choice to make. To fulfill his decree, to satisfy his need for control, that means killing his niece, who also happens to be the fiancee of his son Haemon.

Haemon and Creon

Haemon attempted to calmly and respectfully reason with his father, but Creon wanted no part of Haemon's logic. Creon became set in his ways, with his pride taking hold of his perception. During an argument with his father, Haemon felt his father's actions were unjust and threatened to take his own life if his father killed his bride-to-be. Killing himself would be the only justice Haemon felt he could find, and unfortunately, this is the course of action he takes when he finds Antigone's dead body in the vault.

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