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Argumentative Essay Sample: The Role of Gender in the Burial at Thebes

5 pages
1148 words
George Washington University
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Argumentative essay
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The conflict between the King Creon and Antigone arises from the Kings decree to prevent Antigones brother, who had died in battle, from getting a proper burial. Antigone had to choose between the loyalty to the new king or to family, and her choice started a conflict that had fatal consequences. The ensuing events were a battle of wills as each refused to back down from their convictions. Although disobeying the king was wrong, King Creon was not as infuriated with the disobedience as with the challenge to his masculinity. The conflict between King Creon and Antigone revealed King Creons insecurities, and his decision to punish Antigone was a result of the threat to his fragile masculinity, evidence of his fear of Antigones womanhood.

Antigone is confident in her womanhood. She understands that standing up to King Creon does not make her less of a woman, but reinforces her womanhood. As a woman, she understands when she has had enough. Antigone tells her sister that there was nothing Zeus had not put them through simply because they were women. As women, they had to endure hurt and humiliation both in public and in private. However, she decided that the decree was not something she could accept. Her basis for refusing the decree was not to act more like a man but was part of accepting her role as a sister, as someone who is tasked with ensuring that burial ceremonies went according to tradition. As Robert argues, Antigone does not suppress her sexual differencemasculinize herself or try to neutralize the difference between men and women,as her speech and action depend on the sexual difference (414). As such, Antigone readily accepts her womanhood.

On the other hand, King Creon is not confidence in his manhood or masculinity. Consequently, when faced with a woman who so confidently asserts her sexuality, the kings masculinity is threatened. According to Robert (414), the King is aware of this potential emasculation which will dispossess him of the phallus and would consequently exclude him from the polis. The polis is the political and public sphere and is a masculine world. King Creons fear is articulated in his utterances that accepting Antigone argument would make him a woman while Antigone will be the man in charge. His adamant refusal to listen to Antigones arguments is therefore based on the fear of emasculation, a fear that arises from a lack of confidence in his masculinity.

Neutralization of gender difference creates an atmosphere for the King to thrive. However, Antigones refusal to neutralize this difference threatens to destabilize the sexual economy upon which the polis, and hence Creons authority, rests (Robert 414). The public and political sphere are established along gender roles. It was a place for the native male landowners. The rest of the population was excluded, and it was this exclusion that created the constitutive outside that made possible the poliss self-delimitation (Robert 414). The presence of the other allowed the polis to create boundaries for itself. As such, it was important for Creon to package Antigones disobedience in terms of sexuality. By claiming that Antigones actions were similar to the neutralization of the difference between men and women as provided by the Greek society, Creon is able to make Antigones actions as fashioned against the polis authority. When speaking of Antigone, Creon wonders who does she think she is? / The man in charge? / Have I to be / The woman of the house and take her orders? Therefore, although Antigone broke the law by disobeying the Kings decree, Creon cannot separate the woman from the crime. For him, the crime is more grievous as it is committed by a woman, and hence less strict reaction to the disobedience will potentially destabilize masculinity, and consequently, the polis.

The gender dynamic between Creon and Antigone influences their actions in that Creon wants to hold to his masculinity by destroying Antigones femininity, while Antigone fights to keep her gender difference with Creon. Throughout Antigones trial, Creon is fixated on her gender instead of dealing with the crime. By asserting that Antigone wants to challenge gender roles as provided by the society, Creon attempts to save his masculinity. To Creon and members of the polis, a woman can only practice womanhood within a particular context. According to Robert (414), womens place was the home, hearth, and household. These places do not threaten the polis members manliness. However, being a woman outside this context creates a conflict as the male members are at a loss of how to conduct themselves as males when a woman intrudes on their sphere. By burying her brother, Antigones enters the male sphere and threatens to weaken it. He cannot accept defeat from Antigone in his sphere of influence as that would make him weak. Allowing women as feminine beings into this sphere would threaten the order of things.

On the other hand, Antigones actions are influenced by the conflict and instead of invading the polis as a male, she insists on entering this space as a woman. As a woman, she has the right to bury her brother. As a woman, she is given linguistic kinship of home to tomb (Robert 415). Her fidelity to this relationship as provided by the Greek societal is what drives her to defy Creons authority. Although she defies the creed, she does so from the role assigned to her by the society. As Robert (415) argues, Antigones fidelity to the dead, makes her the other of the other, allowing her to remain encrypted, buried as a person who fundamentally threatens the patriarchal, phallocratic order represented by Creon.

The gender dynamic between Creon and Antigone forces Ismene to reinforce gender stereotypes. Her actions embody the envisioned role of women in the Greek society. Her actions appear to compensate for Antigones lack of femininity as provided for by the society. In response to Antigone, suggestions of defying the kings orders, Ismene assets that she will be ruled by Creons word / [and that] anything else is madness. She also reminds Antigone that as women, they are under a mans rule and should not go against it. By becoming the stereotypical female, Ismene hopes to dilute the magnitude of Antigones transgressions.

The gender conflict that arises from Creons creed and the ensuing events indicate that the main opposition that Creed has towards Antigones actions is their potential for emasculation. This fear arises from his lack of confidence in his manliness. On the other hand, Antigones actions reveal her acceptance of her gender. She does not need to diminish Creons identity as a male to gain hers. Creons and Antigones conflict influence Ismenes actions as the ultimate female as described by the society at the time. She is weak and is unable to stand for what she believes.

Works Cited

Heaney, Seamus. The Burial at Thebes: Sophocles' Antigone, Faber and Faber, 2011.

Robert, William. "Antigone's Nature." Hypatia, vol. 25, no. 2, Spring 2010, pp. 412-436.

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