Essay on the Positive and Empowering Portrayal of Women Sophocles’ Antigone

Published: 2021/12/28
Number of words: 4046


Literature is among the important concepts that form the foundation of life. Most fiction work focuses on numerous topics such as human misfortunes to stories of the ever-prevalent search for affection. In particular, Antigone, one of the well-known Greek tragedy story, elicits an important theme on the empowerment of women. This subject can be depicted by two characters, Antigone and Ismene, who risk their lives in order to bury their brother, a loyalty they feel is linked through the blood. In consideration to Ismene, she answered Antigone to “think of the danger! Think what Creon will do!” (Line 14). This retort came after Antigone told Ismene that Polyneices “is my brother. And he is your brother, too” (Line 13). Despite fearing the laws at first, Ismene, later on, joins Antigone when she was on the course of burying their brother and even accepts to die alongside Antigone, especially when she noted that “we are equally guilty!” (Line 446). These sample texts from the play indicate Ismene underwent a series of empowerment in order to stand up for what is right beside her sister, Antigone, and even defy the laws that she once feared. The burial of Polyneices was against the order from the King. On the other hand, her sister, who at first fears the laws, gave a false confession and offers to die with Antigone as long as the King decides that she should be hanged. In the analysis of Antigone, the historical yearning for feminism can be retrieved from 441 BC, a time when Sophocles scripted the fiction, and this theme has evolved into significant empowerment and development of women in the modern society as demonstrated by Ismene’s growth cycles.

It is feasible to add that Antigone is a mirror to the society since the tragedies in the story portray misfortunes that may occur in the community. Although the literature is mostly physically written in words, these words become alive in the minds and imagination of the audience. The ability of the mind to understand the complexity or simplicity of a piece of literature depends on how the piece is presented. Literature allows people to look through the lenses of others, and in some instances even inanimate objects; consequently, it turns out to be a looking glass into the world as other individuals perceive it. Therefore, literature entails a journey extolled in pages and driven by the thoughts of the reader. Specifically, Antigone story is a brain cracking fiction tragedy with insights on how women’s voice was not given priority. This aspect deciphers a worrying trend in the story that every audience must be concerned about. In particular, Ismene is one character that reveals this irritating notion. Ultimately, literature offers access to impart knowledge on the audience about life experiences that touch their hearts.

Need an essay assistance?
Our professional writers are here to help you.
Place an order

Play is among the earliest forms of literature originally believed to have originated from the Greeks. The drama is mostly presented for entertainment, and there is an element of character impersonation, action imitation, and its play-acting. Also, the plights of women in society are well-presented in most dramas, in this case, Antigone. This form of presentation is regularly used during festivals or other ceremonies, to recreate the feats of some mythical heroes and legends in the society to entertain the audience. In as much as plays are humorous and used for entertainment, several educative aspects of them are considered useful. Modern authors of literature work use dramas to pass across educative messages, such as teaching about virtues in the society, preservation of essential cultural practices, and even warnings about things yet to happen. Sophocles is among the acknowledged three ancient tragedians whose literature work Antigone has survived.

Sophocles originally wrote Antigone in 441 B.C. The play portrays the role of laws and ethics in society. The performance was originally written in ancient Greek language but has so far been translated into several languages including English by several authors. Sophocles used a variety of archetypal and dynamic characters to bring about his intended themes and ideas to life; one of whom goes on to have the play titled after her, Antigone. The structure of the drama follows a traditional pattern of a prologue where the introduction of characters and plot is accompanied by choral entry, and then alternating scenes and choral song. The book signifies a historical play set in the city of Thebes and focusses on Antigone’s dedication to fighting for what she believes is right and the consequences of her devotion. The plot is also about the new ruler of Thebes named Creon who becomes the king after the death of the heirs of Oedipus, Polyneices, Eteocles during the war. As a result, Creon is portrayed as a cruel ruler who goes against the advice of his counsel to pass harsh and unholy judgments. In this case, an impression of morality and justice is introduced. The play is a collection of characters and personalities of individuals who in trying to solve the problems in their community does their best to remain ethically right and within the confines of what is considered to be acceptable in the society. Even though Ismene initially appears to have given in to male dominance in society, as the storyline in the play develops, she realizes through her sister, Antigone, that she can stand up for what is morally upright and challenges wrong decisions from the cruel king, Creon. Ismene undergoes a series of important changes that portrays the liberation of women in several ways, thus eliciting a constructive notion about historical gender development from the old days.

The play begins with the plot of the heirs of Oedipus, Polyeneics, and Eteocles scrambling for power in the kingdom. The two die during the war and their inheritor, Creon, makes a decision demanding for the burial of Eteocles, but his brother, Polyneices, will not be carried home to be accorded a proper funeral since he captained foreign combat. Antigone then attempts to persuade Ismene to help her with the burial process, thereby disobeying Creon who declared that anyone who goes against his command would be stoned to death. Ismene then declines her sister’s proposal since she feared Creon’s wrath, but Antigone defies the King’s decree and chooses to bury Polyneices. Antigone is caught covering Polyneices’ body with dust and is brought before Creon who is amazed to find out that the perpetrator is Oedipus’ daughter. He tries to deal with the issue privately, but Antigone continues by saying that she would rather die than see Polyneices unburied.

Ismene made a false confession about Polyneices’ burial case when Creon summoned her, and this action elicited a perception, she wished to die alongside her sister, Antigone, in case death would be the Creon’s verdict. Consequently, Antigone became unhappy with this guilt declaration, and the King commands that the two suspects be locked together. Depleted of alternatives, Creon decides to free Ismene and declares that Antigone is to be punished by being put in a cave where she would starve until her demise. Haimon decides to sway his father so that he can change his mind not to kill Antigone, but Creon declines while considering him a child. From the excerpt, Creon points out, “You consider it right for a man of my years and experience to go to school to a boy?” (Line 585). It is after the seer, Tiresias appears and convinces the King that the gods demand that Polyneices’ body must be buried that King Creon changes his mind. However, as all these events unfold, it is late to save Antigone she has already committed suicide by hanging herself, an action that causes a series of suicidal tragedies involving Haimon, and Creon’s wife.

Although the play is set in the ancient Greek, the drama portrays different themes relevant to modern society like conflict, moral inflexibility, civil disobedience, women empowerment, culture, and betrayal. These topics as addressed by Sophocles in Antigone have resulted in the play being likes by many people up-to-date thus making the piece one of the best to have stood the test of time. Besides, the significance of the play has become constant to audiences at all times since the themes depicted represent the challenges faced by individuals through generations. Women empowerment is one of the significant themes that continue to affect the female gender to date who are continually fighting for their position in societies.

The play depicts women as resilient and who can decide wisely in a male-dominated Greek society. In this concept, Ismene and Antigone have been interchangeably portrayed to illustrate this form of women’s societal characterization and functions. Through Antigone, women are depicted as strong and firm on their decisions. On the other hand, Ismene is a woman who at first fears male authority, law-abiding and reserved about facing the consequences of going against either. Nonetheless, Ismeme later realizes that she can challenge decisions made by other people despite their gender and authority, which makes her mind and character. She learns to be controlled by her conscious mind rather than being fear-driven. In a society where men have the ultimate power of deciding the fate of every situation, Antigone has stood up to challenge this power, and through her, Ismene is motivated to point out the wrongdoings of the King, something no one expected of her. The chorus that forms part of Creon’s counsel wants the girls punished for disobedience and disloyalty.


Women have shown a positive and enabling portrayal in the struggle between males and females as shown by several examples in the play. This aspect is revealed occasionally by Ismene through her advancement schemes. For a long time in history, women in society have been identified as emotional and weak characters. The portrayal is reflected in the storyline where in the beginning Ismene argues that women are not supposed to compete with men. Antigone is not only the only woman with the ambition to stand for her rights and defy rules that oppress women but also Ismeme. For instance, while Antigone stood firm and opposed the King’s burial order, Ismene underwent several advancements to show significant empowerment to stand for her rights in the same manner Antigone did. Later on, after standing trial before the king and his counsel, Ismene realizes that she should outgrow her fear and speak for what she believes is right and what her morals dictate that she should do rather than cowering to the fear of being punished by the king. This awareness is an act of empowerment on the side of women.

The challenge of traditional roles of gender is imminent, especially when Ismene submits her fears to the power and strength of men, thus unwilling to defy them. This fear makes her decline to take any part in helping her sister to bury their brother. The positive and empowering portrayal of women comes in later when Ismene challenges Creon’s ruling by asking him if he can kill his son’s future bride. “But your own son’s bride!” (Line 450). Her courage to speak up shows that she has learned that women should have a voice and exercise their power in making decisions on matters that affect them in their society. She understands the moral obligations that come with each choice and is willing to ask of the same from others including the king. Antigone’s resolve awards her the ability to challenge the King and recognize his wrong deeds. This steadfastness of Antigone empowers Ismene’s transformation positively by enabling the character to challenge men’s authority, something she never thought was possible.

Women are portrayed in the play as sturdy and firm in seeking justice. The stereotypic characterization in Antigone addresses the perspectives of men about the concept of justice. Creon is a tyrant leader who is proud and unrelenting in his decisions. His character makes him feared by most of his subjects, and most are not willing to go against his edicts. Ismene and Antigone are determined to do what they consider to be morally right regardless of the consequences by accepting the consequence of burying their brother. Ismene’s actions prove that she is courageous and willing to break the norms by standing up against men. Antigone’s character does not portray the expected helpless woman who is resigned to a fate like her sister Ismene at first who despite knowing that Creon’s laws are immoral and inhuman dares not to go against them by helping her sister. “Our own death would be if we should go against Creon and do what he has forbidden! We are only women; we cannot fight with men” (line 45). Ismene’s fear initially makes her accept that Creon’s laws are supreme. This view is evidenced when Antigone asked her if she does not fear God’s laws or if they do not make sense. Ismene replies “I have no strength to break laws that were made for the public good” (line 60). Thus, she believes in the laws but fears going against Creon. However, Ismene learns later to stand for her rights and understands Antigone’s actions and request to take a share of the punishment as quoted in her statement “But now I know what you meant; and I am here to join you, to take my share of punishment” (Line 430). Taking her share of the punishment in this instance implies that she has realized that Creon is unjust and indicates that Ismene would rather die for justice. Therefore, this action depicts a clear picture of how Ismene’s growth so that she could stand up against undermining laws that impeded the growth of women in society.

Furthermore, Antigone’s steadfastness argument with the king makes Ismene realize that their brother, Polyneices deserved a proper burial. The Greek customs accepts the worship of many gods and traditional rituals and rites are performed in the name of the divinities. According to many people, the burial of the dead is as simple as covering the body with the soil. Ismene at first does not see any value in giving Polyneices proper funeral rites. She finds it strange that Antigone speaks so passionately about burying their brother, “Why do you speak so strangely?” (Line 10). After understanding the whole meaning attached to the rite from her sister, she grieves her dead brother and declares publicly her wish to die with her sister. This declaration makes everyone think that she had lost her mind, but she replied that “grief teaches the steadiest minds to waver” (line 450). In Antigone’s ability to stand firm by her belief, Ismene gets the inspiration to follow in her sister’s footsteps in standing for the rights of the oppressed.

The play also depicts the theme of love as strong in empowering women to stand for their rights as demonstrated by Ismene. Love comes in many forms such as through intimacy and relations. The play portrays these types of love in different ways. Ismene refuses to let her sister defy the king’s command because she feared for her death. At first, this action demonstrated a sister’s love that Ismene exhibited to Antigone. Death represents a finality that separates people from their loved ones forever, a notion that Ismene understood. She imagined her sister’s demise and warned her not to go down that path. In specific, Ismene said, “Antigone, think how much more terrible than these our own death would be if we should go against Creon and do what he has forbidden!” (line 45). Ismene later offers to die with her sister after confessing falsely to have helped her in committing the crime of defying Creon’s order, which is an act of love. Albeit refusing to help Antigone with burial processes, Ismene shows her sibling love by offering to die alongside her sister, and she proclaims that life is meaningless in the absence of her sister as quoted; “But how could I go on living without her?” (Line 450). Other characters in the play also support love like for instance Antigone who defies the king to lay to rest Polyneices. She risked the consequence of having herself stoned to death to give her dead brother a decent burial as commanded by their traditions despite opposition from the king. To prove that she is acting out of love, she says to her sister, Ismene, that “I shall lie down with him in death, and I shall be as dear to him as he to me” (line 55). These deeds of affection reflect the positive portrayal of women in the play.

Women in society are understood to be caring in nature, a character they use to empower others as depicted in Antigone. Females are known to show concern in situations whose outcomes are unclear. In the play, Ismene is concerned about her sister going against the king’s edict and suffering the punishment for disobedience. She explains to Antigone the implications of her actions, and when she fails to listen, Ismene calls her unwise. “Go then, if you feel that you must. You are unwise” (line 80). This excerpt shows an outrageous statement made in a desperate attempt by Ismene to prevent her sister from committing a crime against the king. Nonetheless, this care made Ismene change her minds and fight for her and other women’s position in society.

The play places women on both the giving and receiving ends of betrayal. Antigone first narrates to her sister the events that have occurred and then gives her the choices of either proving to be a traitor or a real sibling. Consequently, Ismene decides not to disobey Creon’s laws by helping her sister nevertheless. Conversely, Creon expresses his feeling of betrayal by the sisters and publicly pronounces his suspicions of the two plotting against his throne. He says to Ismene during her trial that she is a “Snake in my ordered house, sucking my blood. Stealthily––and all the time I never knew that these two sisters were aiming at my throne!” (Line 425). In his statement, Creon expresses his insecurity and feeling of distrust with the two sisters. Ismene is not intimidated by this utterances and instead requests to be allowed to die alongside her sister to perform her service to the dead. “Antigone? I want to die with you: I too have a duty that I must discharge to the dead” (line 435). Betrayal is usually a strong word to mention as most people have their personalities threatened at the mention of the word. Ismene shows a strong character not to be intimidated by Creon’s words. She let her morality guide her and recognizes her role in paying respects to the dead hence standing out in defying the odds suppressing women voice in society.

The society places women in a position where they have little or no say in civil matters as evident by the aristocratical system of governance used in Thebes: Oedipus’ sons, Eteocles and Polyneices rules after him, followed by their uncle, Creon. Women’s fates are sealed when it comes to making decisions regarding the laws governing society. When determined to have gone against the law, it is the men in authority who are in charge of passing verdicts on cases. Ismene maintains the status quo and is not considering a change. She gives in to her fears of the authority and emphasizes that women are weak and do not stand a chance in the fight against men. Belittling women is a stereotyped characteristic of how society women are expected to behave. In arguing with her sister, Ismene says “We are only women, we cannot fight with men, Antigone! The law is strong; we must give in to the law” (line 45) and “I must yield to those in authority. And I think it is dangerous business to be always meddling” (line 50). In as much as Creon’s rules are oppressing, Ismene is portrayed as a woman who respects authority and those in power. Her morals also drive her respect for authority because when saying these words, she had not fully understood the implications of these rules yet. She only joins her sister in civil disobedience after realizing that the authority was wrong and the laws were imposing on their rights.

A woman can analyze a situation critically and cautiously evade instances that can bring forth unnecessary conflicts. Ismene positively advised Antigone not to go against the general laws of the king that barred the burial of people considered traitors. However, Antigone believes that the law is wrong and they can offer their brother a proper burial irrespective of any objection. Antigone then goes on to secretly bury her brother without any aid from Ismene despite her warnings against disregarding the laws. She displays a strong character and is steadfast in her beliefs on what she regards as morally upright. Antigone’s resolute argument of the case against her empowers her sister’s faith in doing right. Ismene realizes through Antigone to point out wrong deeds and analyze the edicts passed by the king. She can identify that the king’s decision as wrong even for his Haimon whose bride-to-be is to be put to death and she points it out straightforwardly, “O dearest Haimon, how your father wrong you!” (Line 455). These portrayals indicated women’s consciousness about the welfare of the society, particularly in seeking justice, as well as peace to keep loved ones safe.

Worry about your grades?
See how we can help you with our essay writing service.


The play portrays that women, in a way, are supposed to be submissive and obedient to men. Everyone is supposed to abide by the laws that are put in place to maintain order. The political leaders make these laws and oversee their enforcement. Although Ismene is a typical example of citizens who fears authority and resigns to rules whether good or bad, she later learned to stand up and fight for justice through her sister’s motivation. Initially, she feared the consequences of falling on the wrong side of the law and would do anything to prevent this from occurring, including abandoning their own family. This transformation made Ismene bold to in terms of positive empowerment, where she distinguished ethical edicts from the oppressing ones and stood steadfast for what she believed was morally acceptable. Ismene and Antigone believe in morals. Their actions are inspired by their judgment on what is right or wrong. They do not need political leaders to tell them what to do in different situations. Particularly, Ismene believes that her powers are only inferior to that of the gods and no other. She is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in and cannot be intimidated by men’s authority, unlike other women in the play who follow every King’s command. Her actions lead her to accept to false confession to die alongside her sister, Antigone, a fate both proudly accepts because they will lay rested after giving their brother justice instead of living in an unjust world. Therefore, Ismene’s character is an example of empowering personality who can help others to uprise and fight for their rights, particularly women.

The play provides an account of what happens in a society without steadfast role models who can lead by an example to fight for justice. Oppressors will not stop unless people unite against their rule as shown by Ismene and Antigone in the play. Sometimes, people abide by unlawful declarations because they have no one to guide or inspire them into doing right. Fear exists where people are unmotivated in searching for justice. Punishments are used to frighten individuals away from getting what they rightfully deserve, and when people fear them no more, unlawful leaders will be left with no weapon in their arsenal to exercise their oppression.

Work Cited

Sophocles. Antigone; Classical Greek Tragedy. Translated by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald 1939, Accessed April 27, 2019.

Cite this page

Choose cite format:
Online Chat Messenger Email
+44 800 520 0055