Antigone as a Republican Parable
Teaching Sophocles’ Antigone is difficult with undergrads. They have a tendency to favor Antigone over Creon and make the latter into some sort of vile character. Add a few conspiracy theories and Creon becomes quite a demonic character. My job often turns into making sure Creon gets a fair shake.
It’s not that undergrads fail to understand the motives of the play. Antigone’s first commitment is to her family, Creon’s is to the city and society as a whole. Antigone has broken the law, but is the law just to begin with?
The underlying problem for many students is the bifurcated world in which we live. The Coke-vs.-Pepsi false dichotomy of our society so often tries to force us to make decisions, especially political ones. In the primaries last year, if you voted for Obama over Clinton you were sexist; the other way around and you were racist. The two candidates were very close ideologically (centrist Democrats), but a dichotomy had to be drawn, the political zeitgeist in the States demanded it.
Under these assumptions, it becomes easy to turn Creon vs. Antigone into something akin to McCain vs. Obama. Creon is older. He puts country first, etc. etc. Antigone is younger. She’s not from the patriarchal power structure. She represents change, etc. etc.
However, in truth Creon and Antigone are represented better in our political world by the Republican ticket in ’08. Creon is McCain, and Antigone is Palin. They are both conservative. Creon’s slogan could easily have been “Country First,” but Antigone is running on a pro-family, highly religious platform. The fact they don’t get along points to their inherent similarities. They are both “maverick-y.”
Of course, this metaphor breaks down when we ask who Obama would be in Sophocles’ play. But that is in some way the point. Sophocles is not giving us a simple dichotomy where we are to root for one of the protagonists over the other. Both are so intertwined that they bring about the other’s defeat.