Antigone & Ismene
The Theban play Antigone, written by Sophocles, is about a girl named Antigone who wants to bury her deceased brother, yet the king forbade anyone to bury him. This issue raises a conflict between Antigone and her sister, Ismene. These two sisters are comparable to many sisters, for most sisters tend to disagree on certain issues, and they also often have conflicting personalities. This is the case with Antigone and Ismene. Through their argument over the issue of burying their deceased brother, much is revealed about their personalities. This contributes to the idea that they are very different, yet at the same time it reveals that they complement each other. Antigone, the irrational sister, wants to honor the dead despite the law, and Ismene, the rational sister, wants to obey the king’s command.
Antigone, in her quest to bury her brother, sides with the law of the gods. In arguing with her sister, Antigone mentions that burying her brother would mean honoring the dead, which is of the law of the gods. She tells her sister, “I have longer to please the dead than please the living here: in the kingdom down below I’ll lie forever. Do as you like, dishonor the laws the gods hold in honor” (88-92). Her argument for her actions is that she loves her family and her brother Polynices. As she states above, she would rather uplift her brother, than give in to the demands of the world she lives in. Those around her see Antigone as a radical for her eagerness to disobey the law that the king had commanded. Because of this argument with her sister, Antigone is ashamed of Ismene because she is a coward. She even wants Ismene to tell the world this secret, but it upset her to hear Ismene wants to further hide the secret from others. Antigone exclaims to Ismene, “Dear god, shout it from the rooftops. I’ll hate you all the more for silence – tell the world!” (100-101). Thus, the two depart to their separate ways at the conclusion of their argument, and Antigone proceeds to bury Polynices.
Ismene is completely opposite of her sister, and she sides with the law of King Creon. Ismene clearly states from the beginning that she does not want to bury Polynices because the king had declared not to. Ismene explains to her sister, “…think what a death we’ll die, the worst of all if we violate the laws and override the fixed decree of the throne, its power – we must be sensible” (71-74). Her basic argument for her choice is that she is too afraid of the consequences and she does not want to die. She offers to keep Antigone’s plans a secret, yet Antigone does not want this. Ismene does not want her sister to die, so she figures she can assist by keeping a secret, but she does not know how to react when Antigone begs her to tell everyone. This is why Ismene is more rational in her thinking, which is the exact opposite of her sister. Later though, after Antigone has buried Polynices and has been caught, Ismene stands at her sister’s side, and offers to bear the consequences along with Antigone. “…I’m not ashamed to sail through trouble with you, make your troubles mine,” says Ismene to Antigone, after she is brought in before King Creon (607-609).
In conclusion, Antigone and Ismene have conflicting personalities, and this is seen in their discussion on the burial of their brother Polynices. Antigone upholds the importance of her family, while Ismene stresses the importance of obeying civil law. Even though Ismene comes to realize that her family is more important, she still fears for their lives, and backs away from the possibility of burying Polynices. Antigone is stubborn in her point of view and even clearly admits to her crime when confronted by Creon. The differences between the two sisters are evident here, and it is easy to see how they act as true sisters.