English / A Character Comparison: Nora Vs. Antigone

A Character Comparison: Nora Vs. Antigone

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Autor:  anton  11 March 2011
Tags:  Character,  Comparison,  Antigone
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Ian Gidley

IB English I

May 17, 2005

World Literature Paper I

A Character Comparison: Nora Vs. Antigone

In the novels A Doll’s House and Antigone, Ibsen and Sophocles respectively create two lead female characters, Nora and Antigone, who confront society's expectations of women in fundamentally different ways. Nora goes against the grain of middle class society by first forging her father's signature and then deceiving her husband, Torvald, throughout their marriage; Antigone, on the other hand, openly challenges and defies the rule of men, including her uncle and King of Thebes, Creon. Although Nora and Antigone share some comparable personality traits, like being strong willed and motivated, they confront the men in their lives and their comparable societies in two distinctive ways, which, as a result, leads to two differing denouements.

Nearly every society, Nora and Antigone's are no exception, dictates a specific place or purpose for women, and while Nora and Antigone's respective societies possess some similarities regarding women's place and purpose, they contain several important differences. In Antigone, for example, the relative worth and status of women in Thebian society seems clear; women are to submit to the rule of man. Ismene suggests this submissive attribute of women in Thebian society when she begs Antigone not to defy Creon's commands, "Remind ourselves that we are women and as such are not made to fight with men." (193) Evidently the Thebian society controlled by men has kept a lid on women's individuality so much so that even a member of the royal family, Ismene, speaks of the futility in attempting to clash with the rule of man. Furthermore, Creon asks Antigone if she is "ashamed to differ from such men [the Chorus]?" (212) This suggests that in Thebian society when an individual, such as Antigone, disregards the society's generally believed ideology; they are impelled by others to feel ashamed. For most in Thebian society, the social isolation and induced shame brought about by being 'unique' would steer the individual back towards the widespread held principles. However, it can be observed that Antigone is far too strong willed to submit to society's standards for behavior, and even Creon states "submission [to men] is a thing she's never learned." (211) In A Doll's House as well, women such as Nora have many restraints that keep them from performing certain actions, even if they are good intentioned. For instance, in Nora's society "a wife cannot borrow without her husband's consent." (12) Not only that, but Nora seems to rely on the men in her life, mainly Torvald to perform various tasks for her. "I can't hit upon anything that will do; everything I think of seems so silly and insignificant." "Does my little Nora acknowledge that at last?" (27) Torvald here illustrates the fact that Nora's and consequently women's place in society is dictated by the rule of man - women can make few decisions without the assistance of men. Moreover when Nora asks Torvald to reinstate Krogstad to the bank, he blatantly refuses, stating, "Is it to get about now that the new manager has changed his mind at his wife's bidding Ñ•" "Do you suppose I am going to make myself ridiculous before my whole staff...?" (35) For anyone to sway Torvald would be 'ridiculous', but it being his own wife, that he supposedly has ultimate control over, would be unheard of. Nearing the end of the play, Torvald shows his true colors to Nora, stating that "I would gladly work night and day for you, Nora Ñ• bear sorrow and want for you sake. But no man would sacrifice his honor for the one he loves." (66) This short statement by Torvald exemplifies the fact that in the middle class society of Torvald time, women were simply possessions, love items that are below the status of a man's honor, and according to Torvald no man would give up that honor for that women. This undoubtedly parallels Creon own beliefs as in his introduction speech to the chorus he states, "And I find intolerable the man who puts his country second to his friends." (199) Both Torvald and Creon clearly would put their own honor and the semblance of standard society before their family. Torvald and Creon, therefore, are both strong men who act as the instigators of the repression of Nora, Antigone, and women as a whole in society. Ultimately, the two different societies, more than 2000 years apart, have virtually identical perceptions on women's place in society - a perception of women as submissive and obedient objects meant to be controlled and whom can be discarded for the sake of honor and one's country.

Both Nora and Antigone attempt to, at times inadvertently, break out of the repressive lid that their societies have formed over women, but they go about their quest in fundamentally different ways. Antigone is a strong and motivated individual, as can be observed from her heated conversation with Ismene on the subject of burying her brother in defiance of Creon's commands. "Perhaps, but I am doing what I must." "Yes, more than must. And you are doomed to fail." "Why then, I'll fail, but not give up before." (195) As a consequence of her resilient and rebellious personality, Antigone utilizes open defiance as a tool against Creon and male dominated society. "You chose flagrantly to disobey my law?" "Naturally! Since Zeus never promulgated such a law." (210) Antigone justifies her insubordination towards Creon and male society by declaring that the laws of the Gods are above the laws of mankind. Not once does Antigone deny having committed the act of attempting to bury her brother, but she instead says to Creon, "I did [it]. I deny not a thing." (209) According to Simone de Beauvoir, "Society, being codified by man, decrees that woman is inferior; she can do away with this inferiority only by destroying the male's superiority." Antigone attempts to 'do away' with Creon's superiority by praising a force that even mankind has no power over, the Gods. In A Doll's House, Nora's initial intention is not to break the chains of society, but only to save her husband from death. Her naivety to the situation of a woman forging a man's signature is only revealed in her conversation with Krogstad. "Mrs. Helmer, you evidently do not realize clearly what it is that you have been guilty of." (24) During her conversation with Krogstad, Nora demonstrates her lack of knowledge of the law and the crime, which she has committed. "I don't know much about law; but I am certain that there must be laws permitting such things as that." (24) Instead of accepting the consequences of her forgery act, Nora continues her tirade of naivety by going as far as to accuse Krogstad of being a "very poor lawyer". (24) Nora's actions contrast somewhat with Antigone's; while Nora blames others, like Krogstad, for her incompetence and naivety, Antigone admits to her acts of treason (although she doesn't see them as treason), and somewhat like Nora, she accuses Creon of being a fool, "And if you judge me fool, perhaps it is because a fool is judge." (211) While Nora fails to admit to her crime, at least until the denouement of the play, Antigone openly accepts her sentence of death, "Is there something more you want? Or just my life?" (212), but it should be noted that both Nora and Antigone view their actions as justified in their own eyes, and accuse others because of their inability to regard those actions as just. In conclusion, the techniques that Nora and Antigone use to deny or upset society’s norms are similar yet different. Nora uses deception, then open admittance to destroy the pristine image of middle class society that Torvald has built, whereas Antigone initially admits to the crime, but uses witty remarks and virulent attacks on Creon to break down his superiority.

Nora and Antigone fail to conform to their respected society's expectations, and as a result they are both punished, but they are punished in two vastly different ways. Antigone defies Creon and attempts to bury her brother in the name of God's justice and what is 'right'. "No woman while I live shall govern me." (214) Creon represents the society and state of Thebes, and for him to be disobeyed by an upstart, let alone a woman like Antigone, who openly mocks his authority, would be unheard of. Creon goes on to say, "one who breaks the law and flaunts authority, I will never allow." (221) Antigone soon becomes a liability to the security of the state and the society, for she refused to submit to man's society. Creon, being the upstanding representation of society and the state, must silence Antigone so that additional women do not feel the need to break the chains of society. Therefore, death is the only solution Creon observes in dealing completely with Antigone and her rebellious tendencies. Nora on the other hand brings about her isolation her herself, for she states, "I do not love you any more" to Torvald. (66) Torvald becomes desperate at that moment and begins to say anything simply to keep the facade of 'the family home' alive, not for Nora's sake, but for his own. "But can't we live here like brother and sister?" (67) Nora defies her own husband Torvald for the last time when she states, "I have heard that when a wife deserts her husband's house, as I am doing now, he is legally freed from all obligations towards her." "There must be perfect freedom on both sides." Nora has freed herself from Torvald obligations or his control, and she is no more a simple doll that Torvald can use and manipulate to advance his position in society. Both Creon and Torvald, during the denouements, change their minds regarding the fates of their respective women in order to save face, Creon to spare his son from death and Torvald to save his status in society, which he has built using Nora. However, Antigone's denouement results in death and the end to her existence in the repressive Thebian society, whereas Nora's denouement results in her leaving the home of the controlling and manipulative Torvald who used her to further his gains in society.

Ibsen and Sophocles carve up significant arguments regarding human society in A Doll's House and Antigone respectively. Both plays focus on women's place in society and the struggle of two women to discover the repression of women latent in society and to break free of that repression. Surprisingly enough the two societies maintain similar expectations of women, but Nora and Antigone break those expectations via different methods unique to their situations. Nora is repressed by her husband and society, whereas Antigone is repressed by Creon and Thebian society, and while Nora deceives her husband for the majority of their marriage, Antigone's strong will allows her to openly confront Creon's superiority. Thus, the conclusions or denouements of the plays are to some extent different; while Nora survives in theoretical 'perfect freedom' in her society, Antigone is given death, and in a way 'frees' herself from the repressive society in which she has been subjected to.

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