Personality and values are essential to people’s lives, and they are reflected in people’s actions and decisions. But everyone holds different values and expresses different personalities, in consequence, personalities always influence people’s relationships. In Seamus Heaney translation of Antigone, the relationship between Antigone and her sister Ismene is very weak because both of them have completely different personalities and values. Antigone represents strength and rebellion; in contrast, Ismene represents weakness and obedience.
The two personalities show the difference between the ability to create a change and the ability to just survive.
The play starts with an argument between the two sisters about the burial of their brother, Polyneices, which has been prevented under the threat of death. They both view the issue from different perspectives. Ismene values the laws made by the king, and she chooses to follow the traditional rules that were set for a woman during that time period. She said, “it’s not a woman’s place.
We are weak where they strong” (Heaney 10) which shows that women were not supposed to oppose men because men were seen as more superior, and it is impossible for a woman to speak up for her rights because they are expected to value and follow the laws made by man, but Antigone, on the other hand, values the divine laws and she chooses to oppose man-made laws and speak up for her rights in order for her to free herself from the rule of the king.
Furthermore, their relationship represents the struggle of the citizens to seek their freedom.
Ismene represents the individuals who know the difference between right and wrong but are unwilling to act upon these principles. Ismene acts according to her nature of obedience and what she is expected to do “to act in defiance of the citizenry, my nature does not give me means for that” (Heaney). This represents the thought process of many citizens of the city. They want to remain loyal and do what they are expected to do in order for them to retain honor in death and not just die out of a punishment. Ismene’s refusal to help Antigone certainly doesn’t show her weakness, but it presents a seemingly intelligent and reasonable choice for an unattainable goal.
Her personality is important to the theme of survival and sacrifice. She doesn’t only represent survival but also represents sacrifice; initially, she refuses to help her sister because she is looking for her survival, but she also loves her sister deeply and wants to receive the same punishment form the king as Antigone. In contrast, Antigone represents the individuals who stand up for their rights and want to make a real change. She values the laws of the gods “I disobeyed because the law was not the law of Zeus nor the law ordained by justice” (Heaney 29).
This shows that the divine laws are the only laws that represent and give justice to the people. She believes in them because they are not man-made laws because humans are not perfect, the laws made by them are not perfect either. Her actions represent sacrifice which relates to the theme of the play, she chooses to face the harsh consequences on her own. Those consequences represent honor to her, “and if death comes, so be it there will be glory in it” (11). This explains that she is not afraid to die as long as she proves that man-made laws are not always supposed to be followed. For her, death will bring an afterlife glory that will remind all the citizens of the impact she caused.
The relationship in the play is presented through their actions and their dialogue. At first, they talk, and according to their conversation, Antigone seems to hate her sister for refusing to help her. She ignores Ismene’s point of view about the situation and she insists on following her initial plan. Their conversation presents Antigone as a very stubborn and ignorant. Further in the play, Antigone’s actions toward Ismene show how harsh and unforgiving Antigone is, even toward her own sister. Besides, the play presents their relationship to be very weak and unstable, and it also shows their opposite characters. On one hand, Antigone wants her actions to be public, which leads her to face very deadly consequences. On the other hand, Ismene refuses to disobey the laws, and she takes the seemingly wise decision of staying in the shadow.
Her decision of staying in the shadow causes her to lose the last member of the family, but she only realizes the consequences of her decision at the end when Antigone refuses for Ismene to receive the same punishment as her. Ismene said, “and be forever shamed in my own eyes” (Heaney 36) which represents the regret that Ismene is experiencing and shows that she will be living in shame for not standing with her sister to retain their family’s honor. The conflict between the two sisters shows the difference between surviving but living in shame and dying with honor. Antigone who chooses to speak up and stand for her rights gets to prove her point to the public, and she dies with honor. Her sacrifice is made in the name of afterlife glory. Ismene chooses to obey the laws lives, but she has to live in shame for not asking for her family’s rights, and she has to live with the burden for the rest of her life.