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MonkeyNotes-Antigone by Jean Anouilh
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THEMES

Major Theme

The play focuses on the key word, happiness; and Anouilh makes it clear that happiness is found in having principles and adhering to them. This ideal is highlighted in the debate between Antigone and the king. Antigone rejects the ordinary concept of human happiness that Creon accepts; love, marriage, children, comfort, and sensual joys are not important to her. For Antigone, this formula spells a compromise. Instead, she lives by divine law and sacred duty. She firmly rejects the kingly edict and the small pleasures of life that Creon thinks are important. In refusing these, Antigone rejects life and embraces death.

There are two kinds of basic kinds of human beings in this play: the practical, happy people, who eat, sleep, and procreate like ordinary mortals (symbolized by Creon); and the idealistic heroes, who seek the peace of truth, even if it is to be found in death (symbolized by Antigone). Antigone represents the quest for perfection and the refusal to compromise, which become major Themes of this tragedy.


Minor Themes

The minor Themes of heredity, social status, determinism and the cult of perfection are all, in one way or another, related to the main theme of happiness. Each character has a different perception of happiness, which reflects his or her outlook on life and the human spirit.

Determinism or fatalism: This is the theory that a person's actions are determined by prior events or by exterior forces. Both physical and social determinism crush the characters of this play. Antigone's fate, for example, is as much a result of her place in her family's history as it is a consequence of her exercise of free will. Her father before her (Oedipus) was likewise fated to fulfill a certain role in his world and to perform certain deeds. No moral force can rescue these characters from their collective past although they may try to escape it and to aspire to something better.

Social Factors: Economic status also plays a role in the fate of the individual. Each character is controlled by destiny and guided by his or her basic nature, but is also affected by the surrounding social structures. Antigone, Ismene, Polynices and Eteocles are doubly crushed by social, physical and hereditary factors.

The Goal of Perfection: A small minority of the chosen, like Antigone, continue to seek the ideal. They are tempted by seemingly obsolete values with which they confront social pressures. Antigone refuses to compromise, regardless of social conditions. Such characters refuse to recognize that the pure dream world of their childhood does not correspond to reality. They tend to detest the social system. But more importantly, these idealists cannot forgive or accept the mediocrity of what the world terms good fortune or happiness. Jean Anouilh's protagonists are sensitive and fearless. They reject compromise, which makes up the life and happiness of other mortals. This refusal to compromise sometimes projects a pessimistic view of life.

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