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
90s type woman with her liberated and strong attitude towards her femininity, while
Ismene seems to be a more dependent 1950s 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 Creons 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 argues:
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 Ismenes 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 brothers 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 Creons 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 Ismenes case, that leads both
sisters to their own destruction.
To my surprise, there is a strange twist in both sisters 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 Antigones crime.
The two sisters 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