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Theme of Civil Disobedience in Antigone

Updated October 17, 2020
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Theme of Civil Disobedience in Antigone essay

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From the beginning of time, civil disobedience has been a common theme in society. The word “disobedience” normally has a negative connotation. Disobedience is often defined as the refusal or neglect to obey. However, people still rationalize some forms of civil disobedience. In Sophocles’ Antigone, although written during the very first democracy of Athens, is a perfect example of the philosophy of civil disobedience that resembles many social struggles in history today. Antigone demonstrates through her actions that she is the tragic heroine of the play. She chooses to be guilty before mortal men, rather than in the eyes of the Gods, knowing that God’s laws are above man’s laws. Antigone stands up for what she knows is right, which coincides with God’s laws. She has the courage to defend God’s eternal laws and certain honors that are due to all the dead. In doing so, she accepts her imminent death. Each of these traits prove her to be the tragic heroine of the play. Through Antigone, civil disobedience is justified in acts which abide to the individual’s conscience and values as set forth by divine laws. Sophocles portrays the theme that at times of one’s life, it is necessary for one to follow moral law rather than the laws of the land. In the play, a determined and courageous young woman named Antigone shows loyalty to her beloved brother by granting him a proper burial and suffering the consequences for revolting.

Antigone breaks the law because she loves her brother and desires to do what is right. Antigone believes that state law is not absolute. According to Antigone, an individual should be allowed to act against the law in extreme cases to honor the gods. The custom of the time stated that anyone who is not properly buried is not be able to continue their journey in the afterlife. The Greeks supported absolute monarchs, however, they believed in divine law above monarchy and had a profound amount of respect for the gods and their laws and they knew that the gods demanded a proper burial for everyone. If Antigone had not buried her brother, she would have been violating the god’s laws and would likely have suffered a divine punishment. “I will bury him; and if I must die, I say that this crime is holy”(Sophocles 752). In stating this she claims that the individual conscience and divine laws are more important than civil law. Antigone clearly understands that the act she which she commits is breaking man’s laws, thus it is a crime; however, she feels that the crime adheres to God’s laws, thus making it holy. Antigone cannot be truly guilty if she is defending the superior law of the gods.

Antigone believes that God’s laws are more important that man’s laws. Laws are only as good as the human that made them. Every human has flaws and therefore no law can be perfect. Moral ambiguity is one of the many reasons that there is always conflict. Everyone has different perspectives and values and as a result there is moral ambiguity. God’s laws and man’s laws conflicted. However, since the conflict took place surrounding a death, the morally correct action is to allow the gods to decide the punishment. “It is the dead, Not the living, who make the longest demands: We die forever…” (Sophocles 752). Antigone knows that it is more important to follow God’s’ laws than to follow man’s laws. She knows that burying her brother, Polyneices was more important than following Creon’s law which states that no one should touch Polyneices’ body, or even think about it. She feels that the law is unjust and therefore, breaks it. The law invaded a Greek tradition and a human right to continue to the afterworld and therefore had to be broken.

The opposition will claim that Creon is a fair and just king. Therefore his laws are fair and just. They are wrong because Creon was governing in his own interests. His own opinion was that Polyneices should not be buried because he believed Polyneices died as a traitor. Creon states “my voice is the one voice giving orders in this city” (Sophocles 773). In other words, Creon is showing that he is a dictator. Creon had excessive pride, he was stubborn, power-hungry and refuses to listen to anyone but his own mind. He once again is saying that he placed this law because of what he believed. He was not thinking of his city when he placed this law and in return received anarchy. Antigone could only disobey this unjust law. Creon made it clear that the law would not be changed, so Antigone’s only option in restoring justice and adherence to the god’s laws was to break the law. Antigone’s actions did not undermine the laws of Thebes in any way; because Creon was not acting in the public good, the Greek’s would have praised Antigone for her actions. Creon was merely pursuing a desire for vengeance against Antigone undermining his authority. Creon was motivated by self-interest and was only defending man’s law because it was his own law.

Sophocles, through the play expressed his opinions of civil disobedience. He knew that civil disobedience would always be around and that it will continually be the cause of many conflicts. This play is relevant today because civil disobedience will always be an issue. There will constantly be conflict because everyone has and will have different views and beliefs. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good”. When he says this he means that it is okay to break a law if the law is immoral. Justice and morality have to be prioritized over laws. There is a severe problem when we only follow laws set in place without questioning the judgement and wisdom behind then or questioning who they affect. The rule of law is the principle that no one is exempt from the law, even those who are in a position of power. Antigone proved that when a law is unjust, the law can be broken and it is acceptable. She was correct in believing that every person, no matter who they are deserves a proper burial. Antigone’s Antigone stood her ground, facing her greatest enemy, showing absolutely no fear, and defended her brother.

Theme of Civil Disobedience in Antigone essay

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Theme of Civil Disobedience in Antigone. (2020, Sep 18). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/theme-of-civil-disobedience-in-antigone/

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