An Analysis of Two Key Passages in Antigone During the Nazi occupation of France, Jean Anouilh produced an adaptation of Sophocles’ tragedy, Antigone, as a representation of the struggle between those collaborating with the occupants and those resisting them. While it is possible to read Anouilh’s Antigone as a ‘texte de la Resistance’, it can also be interpreted as an apologia for the Nazis’ severe, authoritarian behavior.
The two key passages selected are crucial to the development of the play in that they highlight the clash between ideologies. While Antigone’s speech offers an insight into her idealistic world view, Creon’s dialogue exposes his pragmatic approach to life. This conflict of thought and action epitomizes the conflict then occurring in France. Antigone embodies the French Resistance, while Creon is the avatar of the Vichy government.
The following commentary will explore not only the contrasting world views put forth by Anouilh, but also the various literary techniques he makes use of and the importance of the key passages in relation to the play as a whole. In the cases of both Creon and Antigone, Anouilh signifies the importance of the French war-time existentialist creed of the importance of determining one’s fate based upon one’s view of life. Perhaps the clearest indication of this comes when she tells Creon: “Yes I am ugly. Father was ugly too.
But Father became beautiful”[Passage A, line 21]. This refers to Oedipus’s catharsis in Sophocles’s trilogy, whereby he blinded himself and went out onto the roads as a beggar to repent for his unwitting crimes of killing his father and marrying his mother and highlights the need for a choice to be willingly made by an individual to become ‘beautiful’. The use of short, simple sentences to express the transformation seems to simplify or purify the effort necessary for this self-transcendence to take place.
Antigone’s tragic fate is foreshadowed, as Anouilh has her identify herself with her doomed father, Oedipus, as belonging to the “tribe that asks questions” [Passage A, line 15]. Anouilh also suggests that to be ‘beautiful’, one must be an indefatigable asker of questions about life and a seeker of answers to these. The idealist is a variety of perfectionist in her striving for the truly noble, and therefore beautiful, life. This can be observed fully when Antigone declares: “I want everything of life, I do: and I want it now!
It want it total, complete; otherwise a reject it”[Passage A, line 9]. It also portrays the element of extremism inherent in idealism since, when perfection is striven for, an extreme alternative, such as martyrdom or suicide may appear to be the only reaction available if one fails to attain it. This irrational behavior corresponds with the radical form of existentialism espoused by Sartre, Camus, and seemingly by Anouilh, during WWII: “I want to be sure of everything this very day; sure that everything will be as beautiful as when I was a little girl.
If not, I want to die”[Passage A, line 11]. However, this also suggests a slightly child-like feature in Antigone’s character, one which carries a visionary sense of purity that does not seem applicable the adult world in which people understand and accept that life often consists of muddling through. On the other hand, hope is typically a key component of a child’s world view; children tend to think that things will get better. This is avoided in Antigone’s version of idealism.
Antigone explains further that when Oedipus became beautiful, he had attained a state of spiritual peace, one that arose from being “absolutely certain that nothing, nothing could save him”[Passage A, line 27]. The necessity of putting out any glimmers of uncalled for optimism emphasizes the central role that being resigned to hard truths, such as having to die for one’s chosen course of action, plays for the idealist existentialist. Yet this does not rule out the pursuit of happiness, as Anouilh has Antigone state that “candidates for election to happiness”[Passage A, line 29] are the ‘ugly ones’.
This once again stresses the idea that ugliness is associated with compromise, uncertainty and doubt, and implies that the idealist rejects happiness in the more obvious sense, to strive instead for fulfillment on higher level. The harshness of Antigone’s outlook is emphasised by Anouilh yet again when he has her say that Oedipus only became beautiful “when all hope was gone, stamped out like a beetle”[Passage A, line 26]. The violent nature of this simile reinforces Antigone’s strong belief in the value self- renunciation.
Simultaneously, it emphasizes that the majority of ordinary citizens blindly follow the dictates of Creon’s government and his pedestrian mode of thought, aiming for nothing more than the contentment of getting on with their lives. Repellent natural imagery is further utilized to distinguish Antigone’s higher aims from those of Creon and all those who are attached to life at any cost: “You [Creon] are all like dogs that lick everything they smell”[Passage A, line 7].
This degrades Creon and his followers—or fellow Collaborators—to mere animals in that they live by their animalistic impulses, most of all the will to live, rather than upon any higher aim. This implies that pragmatism requires minimal thought or emotional effort, while idealism on the other hand, demands a powerful self-control that can sublimate the animal will to live, and requires an advanced intellectual and emotional level. It demands the renunciation of the saint, but as an existentialist without the crutch of belief in God.
On the other hand, Anouilh seems to be at pains to ensure that Creon’s speech utilizes natural imagery in a positive light, as if to make the counter-claim that our natural drives to live long and be content are unquestionable: “Can you imagine a world in which trees say no to the sap? In which beasts say no to hunger or to propagation? ”[Passage B, line 31]. These simplistic examples of naturally intuitive behavior shed light upon the naturalness of Creon’s outlook. They suggest that man has a natural responsibility to accept the role given to him by nature and to live on, reproduce and fulfill any other basic natural drives.
Anouilh further has Creon describe animals to be “good, simple, tough”[Passage B, line 32]. The choice of diction also suggests the vast majority of ordinary people who simply struggle on with life under the Occupation rather than resisting it. Yet, it would seem that Creon himself, in acting as their spokesman, is a different case. Looking at Antigone from Creon’s point of view, Anouilh forces us to ask whether those who say ‘no’ are actually who prioritize their personal identities over the collective well-being of the community.
This illustrates the way in which many individuals allow social regulations to dictate their lives, while ultimately neglecting their own personal happiness. This is the reason that Anouilh has Creon say to Antigone: “There had to be one man who said yes”[Passage B, line 4]. This highlights the higher purpose of pragmatism as it illustrates the intense need for a leader who may well be as much a martyr in his own way as the one who says ‘no’ and selfishly dies.
This makes Creon heroic and gives him a character that is ironically parallel to Antigone’s. Creon continues by explaining the cycle of life; briefly integrating the Darwinist approach to nature, namely ‘survival of the fittest’; stating that while “traveling the same road, some of them keel over; but the rest go on”[Passage B, line 33]. This suggests that ‘the bigger picture’ is the main focus of life, in other words that the benefit of the species, or the nation, as a whole is more significant than one’s personal honor and ideals.
However, it is the case that existentialism does not support the notion that social values should determine an individual’s action. Hence, throughout Creon’s speech Anouilh suggests the devastating effects of conformist values on the individual. These include severe detachment from one’s emotions and desires, as witnessed in Creon’s willingness to sacrifice his niece’s life; that of his son, Haemon, her fiance; and his own personal happiness for the supposed good of the kingdom.
This is summed up in the comment:“Wait to go on living; wait to be killed”[Passage B, line 30], which successfully supports the idea that pragmatists like Creon belittle their true emotions and themselves in stoically accepting the misfortunes and injustices that life offers. By criticizing such sentiments Anouilh indirectly encourages the public to fight for ‘liberte’, or the right to the pursuit of happiness in the way one chooses for oneself. He encourages his audience ‘struggle against settling’.
Of course, this corresponds with his philosophical views as an existentialist, as well as his political ones as a supporter of the French Resistance. Both selected passages of the play are of major significance as both reveal the essence of each ideology—that of idealism and resistance and that of pragmatism and acceptance, while exposing in a shockingly truthful manner that each is, in its own way, both heroically selfless and ignobly selfish. This elucidates an otherwise obscure mirror image relationship between the two ideologies and so heightens the tragic nature of the play. Appendix:
Passage A (page 58-59 )– Creon: Be quiet, I tell you! Antigone: Why do you want me to be quiet? Because you know that I am right? Do you think I can’t see in your fact that what I am saying is true? You can’t admit it, of course; you have to go on growling and defending the bone you call happiness. 5Creon: It is your happiness, too, you little fool! Antigone: I spit on your happiness! I spit on your idea of life- that life must go on, come what may. You are all like dogs that lick everything they smell. You with your promise of a humdrum happiness- provided a person doesn’t ask too much of life.
I want everything of life, I do; and I want it now! I want it total, 10complete: otherwise I reject it! I will not be moderate. I will not be satisfied with the bit of cake you offer me if I promise to be a good little girl. I want to be sure of everything this very day; sure that everything will be as beautiful as when I was a little girl. If not, I want to die! Creon: Scream on, daughter of Oedipus! Scream on, in your father’s own voice! 15Antigone: In my father’s own voice, yes! We are of the tribe that asks questions, and we ask them to the bitter end. Until no tiniest chance of hope remains to be strangled by our hands.
We are of the tribe that hates your filthy hope, your docile, female hope; hope, you whore- Creon: (grasps her by her arms) Shut up! If you could see how ugly you are, 20shrieking those words! Antigone: Yes, I am ugly! Father was ugly to. (Creon releases her arms, turns and move away. Stands with his back to ANTIGONE. ) but Father became beautiful. And do you know when? (She follows him to behind the table. ) At the very end. When all his questions had been answered. When he could no longer doubt that 25he had killed his own father; that he had gone to bed with his own mother.
When all hope was hone, stamped out like a beetle. When it was absolutely certain that nothing, nothing could save him. Then he was at peace; then he could smile, almost; then he became beautiful. . . .Whereas you! Ah, those faces of yours, you candidates for election to happiness! It’s you who are the ugly ones, 30even the handsomest of you- with that ugly glint in the corner of your eyes, that ugly crease at the corner of your mouths. Creon, you spoke the word a moment ago: the kitchen of politics. You look and smell of it. Creon: (struggles to put his hand over her mouth). I order you to shut up!
Do you hear me! 35Antigone: You order me? Cook! Do you really believe that you can give me orders? Creon: Antigone! The ante-room is full of people! Do you want them to hear you? Antigone: Open the doors! Let us make sure that they can hear me! Creon: By God! You shut up, I tell you! Passage B (pages 50-51)- Antigone: No, Creon! You said yes, and made yourself king. Now you will never stop paying. Creon: But God in Heaven! Won’t you try to understand me! I’m trying hard enough to understand you! There had to be one man who said yes. Somebody had to 5agree to captain the ship.
She had sprung a hundred leaks; she was loaded to the water-line with crime, ignorance, poverty. The wheel was swinging in the wind. The crew refused to work and were looting the cargo. The officers were building a raft, ready to slip overboard and desert the ship. The mast was splitting, the wind was howling, the sails were beginning to rip. Every man-10jack on board was about to drown- and only because the only thing they thought of was their own skins and their cheap little day-to-day traffic. Was that a time, do you think, for playing with words like yes and no? as that a time for a man to be weighing the pros and cons, wondering if he wasn’t going to pay too dearly later on; if he wasn’t going to lose his life, or his 15family, or his touch with other men? You grab the wheel, you right the ship in the face of a mountain of water. You shout an order, and if one man refuses to obey, you shoot straight into the mob. Into the mob, I say! The beast as nameless as the wave that crashes down upon your deck; as nameless as the whipping wind. The thing that drops when you shoot may be someone who 20poured you a drink the night before; but it has no name.
And you, braced at the wheel, you have no name either. Nothing has a name- except the ship, and the storm. (A pause as he looks at her. ) Now do you understand? Antigone: I am not here to understand. That’s all very well for you. I am here to say no to you, and die. 25Creon: It is easy to say no. Antigone: Not always. Creon: It is easy to say no. To say yes, you have to sweat and roll up your sleeves and plunge both hands into life up to the elbows. It is easy to say no, even if saying no means death. All you have to do is to sit still and wait.
Wait to go 30on living; wait to be killed. That is the coward’s part. No is one of your man-made words. Can you imagine a world in which trees say no to the sap? In which beasts say no to hunger or to propagation? Animals are good, simple, tough. They move in droves, nudging one another onwards, all traveling the same road. Some of them keel over; but the rest go on; and no matter how 35many may fall by the wayside, there are always those few left which go on bringing their young into the world, traveling the same road with the obstinate will, unchanged from those who went before.
Antigone: Animals, eh, Creon! What a king you could be if only men were animals!  Bibliography: Antigone, Jean Anouilh, translated by Lewis Galantiere, Published by Methuen & Co Ltd, London, 1960 Word count: 1,522 ———————–  Antigone, Jean Anouilh, translated by Lewis Galantiere, Published by Methuen & Co Ltd, London, 1960, p. 58 – 59  Antigone, Jean Anouilh, translated by Lewis Galantiere, Published by Methuen & Co Ltd, London, 1960, p. 50 – 51  *Superscript, red numbers on the side are the line numbers of each passage.