A long time ago, in a place far away called Greece, Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, was faced with an impossible decision. Antigone’s brother Polyneikes had died in battle for his country. Antigone’s two brothers fought on opposite sides of the war – one for their native Thebes and the other for their country’s arch enemy, the city-state of Thebes’ attacker, Argos. Antigone had two duties: bury her dead brother and mourn him properly or abide by the law and leave his body to rot in a ditch.
Antigone chose to bury her brother Polyneikes against Creon’s law that forbid it – a choice Antigone made despite knowing she would be put to death as a result of choosing burial. Antigone’s encounter with Creon is an example of civil disobedience – Antigone chooses to break the rules outlined by Creon because they conflict with Antigone’s own deeply held beliefs. In this sense, Antigone does not just see herself as continuing a legacy of death, she sees herself as Antigone the individual with Antigone’s own set of rights.
Antigone is faced with two decisions: either to remain loyal to her family and give Polyneikes the proper burial Antigone thinks he deserves or abide by Creon’s law and leave Polyneikes’ body for nature to take its course. Antigone chooses the former because Antigone believes that loyalty to one’s family outweighs obedience to an unjust law. Later in history, during the mid-1600s, Henry David Thoreau was forced into a situation where he would be left without his source of income if he didn’t pay poll taxes (even though Thoreau objected to paying taxes which would ultimately go towards paying for slave ships).
Thoreau did not have the money to pay his taxes, so he did something about it. He did not pay them. Antigone and Thoreau both found themselves in a situation where they were forced to choose between obeying an unjust law or following their conscience and breaking that law. The two situations are similar in that there is no “right” choice – one choice will result in Antigone’s death and the other will result in Thoreau’s loss of income (though he still had enough money left over for food).
Antigone decides to put her beliefs above the law while Thoreau decided to cut ties with society and live without its benefits (at least temporarily) so he could stand by his beliefs. Antigone and Thoreau both, in a sense, chose death. Antigone chose to die for her disobedience while Thoreau chose to “die” to society – that is, cut ties with it – in order to be able to stand by Antigone’s decision. Antigone died because she chose loyalty over obedience while Thoreau no longer had any need of society after he decided not to pay his taxes anymore.
It took Antigone some time and thought before she made the decision to disobey Creon’s law and bury Polyneikes’ body (which had been rotting since he’d died some time ago). igone did some soul-searching and realised Antigone’s own conscience was telling Antigone Antigone must give Polyneikes the proper burial Antigone felt he deserved. Antigone took some time to think over her choices before she made any decision, so Antigone would not be forced into taking what Antigone calls “the coward’s choice” (pg 6).
If Antigone had only thought about it for one second, Antigone would have chosen to leave Polyneikes’ body in the ditch just because Creon told Antigone that was what Antigone should do. This is why Antigone takes some time to consider all of her options before making a decision. If she did not, then there would be no point in Antigone even considering Antigone could make a different choice. Antigone would be like someone Antigone describes as “an ox for many ploughings” (pg 6) – Antigone would always do whatever Antigone was told without ever thinking or questioning that order.
Antigone spends some time making her decision because Antigone wants to consider not only the moral and ethical implications of what she’s going to do, but also the consequences of her actions, knowing full well that death might come with disobedience. Creon has made it very clear to anyone who will listen – a warning which is given often – that those who disobey his orders will be put to death by being thrown into a deep, dark hole and left to rot. Antigone would probably be okay with Antigone’s decision if Antigone only had Antigone’s beliefs to worry about.
Antigone knows Antigone will die for Antigone’s disobedience of Creon’s order but thinks that some things are worth more than life itself (such as family). Antigone goes ahead and buries Polyneikes’ body anyway because Antigone knows how important it is not only to give those we care about the respect they earned during their time on earth, but also because Antigone believes doing what is morally and ethically right outweighs any consequences which might come from following one’s conscience .
During Thoreau’s time, there was a war going on and the government needed to raise money for it. The way they chose to do that is through taxes . Antigone’s situation is different in Antigone’s own actions were not motivated by Antigone’s country being at war, but Antigone feels it is still applicable because Antigone had a country which Antigone loved as much as Antigone loves Antigone’s family.
Thoreau refused to pay his taxes for two reasons: firstly, he felt the US government operating under a constitution he considered immoral meant those taxes were immoral as well; secondly, Thoreau wanted to show his disapproval of what the US government was doing by refusing to give them any of Antigone’s money. Antigone did Antigone’s absolute best to follow Antigone’s conscience and not pay Antigone’s taxes because Antigone loved Antigone’s country so much Antigone wanted to show Antigone’s country how much Antigone loved Antigone by withholding something from them until Thoreau could find a government Antigone respected more.
In the end, both Thoreau and Antigone died for their disobedience after being caught. Neither of their deaths were noble or without sacrifice: they both died alone in a deep hole with no one around to hear them scream. When it came time for Thoreau to give his speech at the courthouse before he was put in jail Antigone was sick and Antigone’s sister had to give Antigone’s speech for Antigone.
Antigone hoped Antigone would eventually be able to speak Antigone’s own words, but Antigone never got that chance. Antigone will always wonder if Antigone could have done something differently – if there was a way for not just Antigones’ actions, but also the consequences of those actions, to come out differently – or if there really was nothing else Antigone could do other than as Antigones as told by Creon even though Antigones knew what good might come from breaking those orders.