Antigone by Frederic Leighton, 1882.

Antigone’s Justification for Devotion

A Rhetorical Analysis

Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, sister of Ismene, and fiance to king Creon’s son Haemon. After being exiled by Creon and subsequently buried alive in a stone cave, Antigone chooses to direct her last monologue, not to Creon or the people of Thebes, but to a higher power such as the Gods and the underworld to justify her actions one last time. In her emotional and passionate speech, she reveals that she believes that being sent to her death is an unruly and unjust punishment for she meant not to offend Creon’s laws, but to follow the divine law of the Gods regarding proper burials. Reassuring the Gods deem her actions to be wrong, she would gladly serve out her punishment of marriage not to Haemon, but to death itself. In these final lines, we learn just how devoted Antigone is to the Gods and her family, helping us understand her values and intentions through her actions.

In the beginning of Antigone’s speech, she’s addressing the stone wall that would serve as her wedding chamber, tomb, and prison, she states “behind you and beyond you stand the dead./ They are my people and they’re waiting for me”(Heaney 53). Employing apostrophe, she is speaking to a stone wall metaphorically, using the wall as a symbol of the only thing standing between her and her family which is alluding to her suicide later in the story. She does this numerous times throughout the speech to address the dead and the Gods who are waiting for her arrival to Hades’ underworld. Antigone would rather die than stay in this world and lament her freedom in her stone prison, but even then it is important for the Gods to know her true intentions in breaking Creon’s order. To do this, she uses the rhetorical appeal of logos or logic, “Not for a husband, not even for a son/ Would I have broken the law./ Another husband I could always find /And have other sons by him if one were lost./ But with my father gone and my mother gone,/ Where can I find another brother ever?”(54). Antigone makes it clear that she holds Creon’s orders in high regard but when it has to do with giving her irreplaceable brother peace in death, she had to abide by the laws of the Gods to ensure a tranquil and final resting place for him, her familial values are the logic for her actions. Intending to please the Gods, Antigone uses ethos and goes on to say, “Have I offended gods?/ Do the gods have no regard for what I did?/ Where can I turn if they turn away?” (54). Antigone prides herself on her devotion to her family and the divine law of the Gods, her credibility toward the Gods is what makes her afraid that they may have misunderstood her actions in giving her brother a proper burial and two lines later states, “And if that is the Gods’ verdict, so be it/ I’ll have transgressed and will suffer gladly” (54). If the Gods were to agree with Creon’s punishment for her, she would “gladly” pay the price, however, in her “heart of hearts” she knows that she did the right thing and Creon is in the wrong. And soon, he too would pay for his mistakes (54).

Arguably the most important line in all of her monologue, in using pathos or emotion, Antigone’s final words to the people were said with assurance and integrity, “And never you men of Thebes,/ forget what you say today:/ Oedipus’s daughter,/ The last of the royal house condemned. And condemned for what?/ For practicing devotion,/ For a reverence that was right”(55). Antigone is able to see clearly how devotion is more important to her than civil rules. She addresses the people of Thebes directly to make sure they remember the atrocities that were carried out the day Creon buried her alive.

After being the character who disturbs the “calmer water” that Creon thinks represents Thebes, Antigone makes the people of Thebes, and even Creon’s own son question his authority when he chose to carry out his own laws instead of following the Gods. After Ismene was terrified of the fate in store for Antigone if she crossed Creon, Antigone saw it as an opportunity to go out with honor. Her final speech is an effective way of leaving a lasting legacy for the people of Thebes, in using the rhetorical appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos the reader was able to understand Antigone on a deeper level. Antigone’s final soliloquy solidifies and encapsulates the true essence of Antigone, devoted, steadfast and someone who knows their worth.

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