Friday, October 8, 2010

Example of Essay: Sophocles' Antigone

Antigone And The Body Of Polynices - Project G...Image via Wikipedia

Sophocles (c. 441 B.C.). The story of Antigone is part of the Oedipus legend. For aspiring writers, this play offers great challenges on how to write an essay, or even a narrower assignment: how to write a college essay.

The curse on the house of Labdacus not only brought about the double fratricide of Eteocles and Polynices but also involved their two sisters Ismene and Antigone. Both sons plotted to rule Thebes by turn, but when Eteocles refused to give up power to Polynices, they fought against each other-both died in battle.

Anti­gone, the heroic daughter of King Oedipus, insisted upon giving her brother Polynices (who had been named a traitor to the city of Thebes) the last human right, the rite of burial. Despite the fact that Antigone knew she was violating the ancient custom of deny­ing burial to enemies and traitors, as well as the decree of Creon, her uncle, who had just succeeded to the throne, she went against tradition.
Sophocles en­dowed his heroine, Antigone, with the highest moral qualities, setting her up as an ideal heroine for all mankind to admire. Filled with an unmatched sense of duty based on close family ties, Antigone is unyielding. Her sister Ismene, in contrast, represents the law-abiding citizens' point of view, the view of the multitudes who dare not challenge deeply ingrained customs, traditions, and the law of the land.

But the climax of the tragedy is the encounter between Creon, the tyrant, and Antigone the martyr: physical power against spiritual strength. Representing the loyal people of Thebes is the chorus, as it ex­presses the logic of the plebeian everyday world; just like Ismene, they both submit to civil law.
The denouement of the tragedy comes when Nemesis -a goddess- takes sides as well as Creon's family as punishment for his stubbornness, causing the great ruler to end up as a weakling ordinary man. Yet, Antigone must also lose her life.

Sophocles' attitude shows in the tragedy: the gods cannot allow the violation of the integrity and human dignity of man; transgression must not go unpunished. Rulers must not abuse his subjects with impunity, for it is a hundred times better to die as Antigone than to go on suffering an unjust human law. And though Creon finally sees Antigone's point of view, it is really too late, and the loss of life ensues right on stage: in the end Haemon (Antigone's beloved), his mother, and Antigone herself, they all commit suicide.

In the midst of much suffering and loss of life, Creon, the tyrant, remains standing and alive.

But Antigone is not to be understood as a perfect character. Her tragic flaw lies in her insolence toward civil authority. Yet her determination and the sheer spectacle of a young woman sacrificing love and live for an ideal will forever gain the sympathy of readers and audiences alike.

Writing conclusions are always difficult. In my view, the reader must be left with something to ponder. So, as an example of essay, with which to wrap up a conclusion, use a question:
The question remains, was Antigone a martyr saint, or simply a social activist?

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