Gender roles in Antigone


Antigone is a bold and assertive woman who threatens to upset gender roles in her community by defying the most powerful entity in Thebes – King Creon. She is a woman who rises up and faces death in order to stick to her values. Such a depiction was at odds with the original audience’s perception of women’s place. This will be seen through an analysis of the other characters in the play and the values of ancient Greeks.

Background and context

In ancient Greece, women’s role in society was minimal (at best), yet Antigone represents conflicting values. Indeed this central character appears to be at odds with the inclinations of the other females in the play. For instance, Antigone’s sister Ismene is weak and subservient. She knows that the King’s decree was unjust but she is too timid to fight for her brother’s dignity. She even tries to talk her sister out of defying the King’s order. In the play this is what she says in an attempt to persuade her sister:

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“Think how much more terrible than these our own death would be if we should go against Creon. We are only women, we cannot fight with men Antigone! The law is strong, we must give in to the law… I beg the dead to forgive me, but I am helpless, l must yield to those in authority. And I think it is dangerous business to be always meddling.” (Burnet and Burto 462)

These were symptomatic of prevailing perceptions of feminine roles in that society. Women thought of themselves as weak and inconsequential.

The other individual who also displays these values in the play is King Creon’s wife Eurydice. She was not bold enough to confront her husband about the moral wrongs he had committed, because this would translate into a defiance that resembles that of Antigone. She chose the easy way out, and merely committed suicide. The other women in the play are tools that have been used by Sophocles to reveal prevailing gender assumptions (Harvey 69).

Books and scholarly analyses of women in ancient Greece reveal that they were a fearful lot. Most of them could not dare to speak out against their male counterparts because they would be confronted with violence. Additionally, because that society was deeply rooted in mythologies, most women thought that if they stood out, they would anger the gods hence bring curses upon themselves. All these fears kept them in the confines of their homes.

They let their brothers, husbands and fathers attend to all the serious matters in life while they stayed at home taking care of their children. Kings, members of the counsel, soldiers and other political roles were strictly male dominated. This group made all the crucial decisions in Greece while women abided and respected those decisions without question (Soderback 13).

Characters and relationships

The main character in the play is definitely a progressive individual based on those Grecian standards. Her gender had a serious effect on her actions because it undermined societal structures. King Creon vehemently asserted that he needed to defeat her even more pressingly because she was a woman.

Her rebellion was a threat to hierarchical structures since she had refused to act subserviently. This view was confirmed when the King realised that he had made a mistake. Instead of correcting his wrongs, the King chose to alter his argument. He insisted that accepting defeat to a woman would upset divine laws and he simply was not prepared to do so.

Such faulty thinking has been punished in the play through the deaths of Creon’s most important family members i.e. his wife and his son. This is indeed a progressive depiction because it focuses on an ideal female character (Bates 44). She made a resolve to bury her brother’s body regardless of her sister’s support.

Antigone firmly tries to protect her sister when she wanted to accompany her to her death. She makes a very convincing and daring speech against Creon when he questions her decision to bury her brother. Antigone does not refrain from provoking the King to implement his repressive resolution because she is certain about her values. Her purpose is firm and undeterred, and she is willing to face death for it.

When the guards carry her off to her death, she starts wailing about her untimely death. Antigone still exhibits heroic qualities at this moment because she does not talk about Haemon and other lustful moments that she will miss upon her demise. Even the very nature of her accusation makes her heroic. She is accused of committing a holy crime. This sister wanted to bury her brother in the proper way but got prosecuted for it.

Four specific instances in the play reveal the heroic (hence progressive) nature of the main character. First, she readily admits her commission of the so called ‘crime’. She could have taken the easy way out and be spared from prosecution. Secondly, she refuses to let Ismene take the blame for this act and thus illustrates how selfless she is.

Thereafter, Antigone faces death boldly without a hint of nervousness or misery. Lastly, this woman is a true icon because she chose to take her life rather than waste away in a cave. Instead, of waiting and hoping for the King to change his mind, she chose to terminate it honourably.

Interestingly enough, Antigone is not too different from other contemporary fictitious characters in Greek plays. Ancient Grecian playwrights had a tendency to create unconventional and complex female characters. Some notable figures include Clytemnestra of the play Agamemnon. This was a brutal and villainous woman who killed her husband and his lover.

Her actions are justified by the difficulties she underwent when she lived with her husband. Another notable figure is Cassandra of the play “The women of troy”. She was granted the gift of prophecy by a god known as Apollo. Cassandra prophesised that the city would be destroyed; she also boldly rejected the sexual advances of a mortal and real god. All these unconventional women reveal that Greek plays tended to elevate women above and beyond their traditional roles in society (Hada 12).


The play remains relevant today because, like most feminist advocates, Antigone represents a form of defiance to authority necessitated by seeming injustices. Such individuals can be found in mainstream media today. An example is Amelie; a French film about a girl who grew up with pathetic authority figures for parents.

She decides to defy them by healing people. Another one is “The burning times” which talks about European killings of female witchcrafts. Some of them were falsely accused and were bold enough to defend themselves. They defied authority but still ended up dying.

Civil liberties are still under threat. Instances of racial injustices and oppression still occur in modern time. Some countries are grappling with prolonged war, religious and cultural tensions as well as economic oppression. In situations like these, individuals must stand up just like Antigone did in order to mend these wrongs.

However, those objections should not be raised through brutal or violent means; they need to borrow strong feminine approaches such as the ones depicted in the play. Intellect, firm will, and self sacrifice are just some of the traits that change agents today can utilise to change their worlds (Soderback 8).


Antigone is a fascinating character who single-handedly takes on figures of authority in an effort to fight an injustice. The manner in which she deals with the King, her sister, and her death make her quite endearing. It is these qualities that qualify her as an unconventional and progressive woman in her society.

Works Cited

Bates, Alfred. The drama: Its history, literature and influence on civilisation. London: historical publishing company, 1906. Print.

Hada, Moses. A history of Greek literature. NY: Columbia University press, 1950. Print.

Harvey, Paul. The oxford companion to classical literature. Oxford: OUP

Soderback, Fanny. Feminist reading of Antigone. Albany: University of New York press, 2010. Print.

Barnet, Sylvan & Burto, Williams. Literature for composition. London: Longman, 2011. Print.


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