Literary Devices in Antigone

Literary Devices in Antigone
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  • 0:04 Literary Devices
  • 0:43 Plot & Foreshadowing
  • 2:27 Allusion
  • 2:57 Symbolism
  • 3:44 Theme
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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.

Literary devices enrich our reading experiences by creating depth and meaning in a story. In this lesson, we will explore the use of literary devices in the play 'Antigone' by Sophocles.

Literary Devices

It's one thing to read a story; it's another to analyze it. To successfully analyze a text, we often need to pay close attention to literary devices. These tools not only shape the language and context of a literary work but also help us examine the deeper meanings of stories and develop ideas about authors' intentions. While Sophocles uses various literary devices in Antigone, five devices are especially helpful in analyzing his play:

  • Plot
  • Foreshadowing
  • Allusion
  • Symbolism
  • Theme

Let's take a look at these devices to decide how each helps us access meaning in Antigone.

Plot and Foreshadowing

Plot is the sequence of events in a story. Antigone's tragic story begins with the deaths of her brothers Polyneices and Eteocles. The two men have fought for control of the city of Thebes, but both have lost their lives in battle. Polyneices is considered a traitor by the new king Creon, who happens to be Antigone's uncle. He declares no one is allowed to bury Polyneices's body because of his actions against Thebes.

Antigone believes she should bury her brother because of Greek tradition and goes against the order. Creon sentences Antigone to imprisonment but has a change of heart after speaking with a prophet. Unfortunately, it's too late. The play ends with Antigone taking her own life. Upon finding Antigone's body, her fiancé--Creon's son Haemon--also commits suicide. The domino effect continues when Haemon's mother and Creon's wife takes her life after hearing the news of her son's death.

Foreshadowing occurs when the author provides hints or clues as to what may occur later in a story. In the play Antigone, the reader finds these clues often come from oracles. Playing important roles in Greek antiquity, oracles figured prominently in Antigone's family. An oracle, for example, predicted a dire fate for Antigone's father Oedipus. Although Oedipus tried to avoid his fate, he could not; Oedipus killed his father and married his mother, just as foretold. His actions became a curse that foreshadowed Antigone's tragic end.

The tale of Oedipus started with a reading from a famous oracle. This reading became his curse that spread to his entire family. Depicted are Oedipus and Antigone who are both tormented by the curse.
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Another example of foreshadowing of future events occurs at the beginning of the play: Creon gives a speech about how he will always put Thebes before his family. At this time, the audience knows that Antigone plans on burying her brother. This speech foreshadows Creon's future conflict with Antigone.

Allusion

An allusion is a reference to a work of literature, film, or history within a story. In Antigone, references to several figures and mythological stories appear throughout the play. For example, the play's characters reference Zeus, the father of the Heavens, and Hades, the god of the dead. Antigone also references Niobe, the former Queen of Thebes. Niobe's story mirrors that of Antigone's punishment and the similar lack of justice Antigone feels regarding her imprisonment.

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