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Antigone is the protagonist and tragic heroine of the play Antigone. She is the dutiful daughter of Oedipus who cares for her blinded father, the plain sister of the beautiful Ismene, the brothers of Polynices and Eteocles, who are killed in a civil war against each other, the niece of Creon, who issues the edict that leads to her destruction, and the fiancee of Haemon, who kills himself in order to rest eternally with her. The play has been named after Antigone, and she is the focus of interest for the audience, who is meant to be deeply moved by her fate. She wins admiration because of her devotion to her dead brother, her respect for the gods and their law, her firm resolutions, and her fearlessness; but she is by no means a perfect woman. She is extremely proud and arrogant.
In deciding to perform the rites of the burial of her dead brother, Polynices, she is influenced by two considerations. Her religious duty demands that she perform the burial rites even though her action will mean a violation of the order issued by King Creon. Secondly, the dead man is her brother, and as she repeatedly tells Ismene and Creon, she cannot desert him. She claims that no leader has the right to keep her from her own family and from her duty.
During her interviews with Creon, Antigone bluntly states that the order banning the burial did not come from the gods, and the edict of a king cannot take precedence over the unwritten, unchanging, and everlasting spiritual laws. She accepts her earthly punishment in order to win the favor of the gods and to maintain her own sanity. If she fails to perform the burial of her brother, the shame caused by her failure would be intolerable, especially believing that her dead brother would never be at rest. Antigone is admired for the fact that she places her sacred duty to her dead brother above all considerations of personal safety. She is inspired by a holy zeal and is willing to incur the death penalty for the sake of her convictions.
Antigone will not allow Ismene join in her punishment at the end of the play. Earlier her sister had told Antigone that she did not want to participate in the burial, for she was afraid of dying. Antigone honored this opinion, even though she could not understand Ismene's apparent cowardice. When her sister comes to her at the end of the play and offers to share in the punishment, Antigone will not let her. She reminds Ismene that she has chosen to live rather than make the sacrifice for their brother. As a result, Antigone dies as a lone martyr and attains a tragic stature by doing her sacred duty.
In spite of her noble actions and lofty ideals, Antigone is not a perfect woman. There is pride and arrogance in her character, which come out in both her conversation with Ismene and in her confrontation with Creon. In the scene with the Chorus, she indulges in self-pity when she is overwhelmed by her own impending doom. She taunts Creon and provokes him to sarcasm when he says that if weeping and wailing could prevent death, human beings would weep and wail all the time. Some critics even think that the reason Antigone does not allow Ismene to share her punishment is because she wants to be a martyr all by herself, sharing her martyrdom with no one.
Sensitive, idealistic, proud Antigone is not willing to compromise in any way. She is the embodiment of unbending idealism, a true daughter of Oedipus. Antigone's free will is similar to that of the modern woman. She is outraged when patronized and revolts against all forms of injustice.