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The humble nurse feels upset because she has brought Antigone up to be a princess and is worried about her reputation and her welfare. She scolds Antigone and tells her to be open and bring her young man home for her approval. She also swears she will complain to Antigone's uncle, Creon, about her wicked ways. Humble and narrow-minded as the nurse is, her statements ironically point to the gulf between truth and illusion. Although she does not know what Antigone has really done, the nurse is scared of the consequences of Antigone's boldness. Antigone also speaks with dramatic irony when she says, "I mustn't be a little girl today". The remark is full of tragic significance for the protagonist.
When Ismene enters, sleepless with worry, Antigone recalls how she was jealous and willful in their childhood. Ismene knows her sister is still rebellious and tells her she is mad for even thinking of breaking Creon's law and burying Polynices; but the dutiful and idealistic Antigone is determined to give Polynices a religious burial. She values her sacred obligations above all else and is not afraid to die for her beliefs, unlike her cowardly sister Ismene. Ismene tries to frighten Antigone into obedience by painting a grim picture of the mob's violence and of the scandal that will be caused by their violation of Creon's law, but Antigone is stubborn. She is determined to do what she believes is right. Antigone's outburst about the hypocrisy of the word "understanding" is reflective of her free, untamed spirit.
The two sisters are sharply contrasted in temperament, attitudes, and beliefs. Ismene tries to be practical, sensible, and rational, whereas Antigone is impractical, idealistic, and irrational. Antigone hates the word "understand" because it implies mindless conformity. Ismene hates idealism and heroic deeds in a female and tries everything to talk some sense into the mind of her "foolish" sister. Ismene is deathly afraid to die; Antigone has a passionate love for life, but is not scared of the consequences of performing her sacred duty of burying her brother.
When Haemon, her betrothed, comes in, Antigone asks the nurse to leave. She wishes to take leave of her lover in private. She apologizes for quarreling with him the previous evening. When Haemon says that they will have other evenings, she remarks that they will not. She embraces him and declares that she would have protected their little boy, if they had become parents. Her tenderness towards her fiancé and her yearning for maternity is very touching; it reveals the human side of Antigone. But the moving scene is quickly put aside when she breaks the dreadful news, "I shall never, never be able to marry you, never!" Haemon is shocked and stunned as she ushers him out.
Ismene comes on stage again to convince Antigone that Polynices is an enemy and a bad brother who never loved her. She begs Antigone again not to defy Creon. Antigone coolly tells her that she has already buried their brother's body. When Antigone goes out, Ismene runs after her in fear. On stage, morning has broken and conflict and tension fill the air. The audience knows that tragic consequences must soon come to pass.