Antigone vs Ismene by Sophocles

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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 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 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.