Dutiful Characters of Ibsen and Sophocles Essay
Dutiful Characters of Ibsen and Sophocles
Nora of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and Antigone of Antigone (by Sophocles) have all had circumstances pitted against them, yet within these unfavourable circumstances they have duties to perform. Their constraints as women or as people whose destinies are governed by fate have caused them to be without pleasing options in their situations—and through the performance of their duties fate often does its work. They have both acted in ways that cause them to be viewed as the dutiful characters in their stories.
Where there have been successes, the achievement of their goals against odds reveals them as hardworking characters who shift to accommodate and adjust to the vicissitudes of life, and who are able to defy hardship and even death to do their duties to those for whom they feel loyalty. The situation given Antigone is not one that can be taken lightly, as defiance of authority within that culture of ancient Greece had the ability to ruin an individual. Such an individual would have to be sure that he or she was acting in accordance with the wishes of the gods.
In the play, Antigone is concerned that the lack of burial for her brother (who in her opinion had done no wrong) should be an affront to the gods. Even so, if it was not disliked by the gods, she was willing to defy them in order to satisfy herself—for it was an affront to her and she considered it her duty to rectify the situation. It was a dangerous thing for Antigone to find herself in defiance of the gods (who control fate) and of the king Creon. Her father, Oedipus had in his day found himself on the wrong side of Fate and was ruined as a result (Oedipus, the King).
As the daughter of a cursed man, Antigone knew that her fate could be an unfavorable one and that it would serve her best to act in accordance with the wishes of the gods. Yet her duty to her brother was stronger, and she acted as she wished and sealed her fate. In A Doll’s House, Nora’s duty is toward her family as Antigone’s has been, and she too defies odds in order to fulfill them. As Nora reveals her hardships to Mrs. Linde, it is evident that she has tried many ways to create favorable circumstances for her husband. As a dutiful wife, she has made many attempts to create a good home.
In order to do this, she embarks on the business of borrowing money so that her family might be able to meet its obligations. She proves herself able to deny her wants in order to fulfill her own obligations to the debt. She uses all the devices she as a woman possesses toward the fulfillment of the goal. She proves herself better equipped than even her husband who, possessing the abilities and opportunities of a man, has not shown half the resourcefulness she has, nor has he accomplished as much. In examining the actions of Antigone, one can demonstrate precisely how she showed her dutifulness throughout the play.
She begins by defying the decree of the king, who has denied burial to her brother. Antigone initially asks her sister to help with the burial, “Will you help these hands take up Polyneices’ corpse and bury it? ” (lines 52-53). This plea for help demonstrates how natural Antigone felt her duty toward her brother to be. She expected her sister to share it without question. However, even after her sister refuses, she shows her duty in her ability to act given limited resources in her willingness to do all herself.
Upon her sister’s refusal, she replies “I’ll do my duty to my brother—and yours as well, if you’re not prepared to. I won’t be caught betraying him” (lines 56-58). Though she is not able to influence her sister, she is still demonstrates determination to perform her duty in her ability to create the situation she desires. It is also possible to track the areas in which Nora has shown herself dutiful—and in her duty, resourceful. In the years following the incident, she has managed to repay most of her loan without help, sacrificing the scant pleasures of her life.
She relays this here: “It has been no joke to meet my engagements punctually. You must know, Christina, that in business there are things called installments, and quarterly interest, that are terribly hard to provide for. So I’ve had to pinch a little here and there, wherever I could. ” This demonstrates the duty that she has to her husband, children and the service of her debt. She does not show the strain that must have been upon her—remaining strong to her children as a dutiful mother should. She succeeds in single-handedly turning around the fate of her family, while continuing.
Her burden was often great, as she expresses, “sometimes I was so tired, so tired. And yet it was splendid to work in that way and earn money. I almost felt as if I was a man. ” Her power of conformity allowed her to transform from passive wife to active and dutiful breadwinner, as she assumes a role generally reserved for those the opposite sex. In both A Doll’s House and Antigone, other characters’ failures in their duty serve to strengthen the effect of the duties performed by Antigone and Nora.
Creon (the king) might be seen as dutiful because he carries out the decrees of his throne unrelentingly. Yet, in all his power and his attempts at duty, he fails in comparison to Antigone who braves death in her performance of her duty. All Creon’s power does not gain Antigone’s obedience, and though he declares of Polyneices, “He’ll be left unburied, his body there for birds and dogs to eat” (lines 234-5) his word is unheeded by Antigone so that what he says will not happen does in fact happen. Antigone’s sense of duty allows her the fortitude to face a king who is backed by an army.
She knows that Creon is able to command the country’s armed forces and have her banished or killed for her deed, and yet her loyalty to her brother impels her toward committing the act of defiance. Antigone proves to be the writer of her own fate, and accepts death for the sake of her duty toward her brother. She says, “Take me and kill me” (line 565) demanding (and receiving) her own death. Ismene, like Creon, can hardly be considered dutiful in that she expresses no real wish to be loyal (at all costs) to her brother.
Though she too loved her brother, she fears the power that Creon has to banish or kill dissenters. Her speeches are mainly questions and demonstrate no inclination toward action. She says, “What? You’re going to bury Polyneices, when that’s been made a crime for all in Thebes? ” (lines 54-55). Here she subtly refuses to help Antigone and demonstrates even further the lack of duty she feels. Yet in the face of Antigone’s strong feelings of duty, Ismene cannot prevent the action. Much later when Antigone knows she will die, Ismene asks, “Even now is there some way I can help? ” (line 631).
She asks to help now, when she refused her help before, and this reflects not duty but an attempt to pretend loyalty when she knows that no help is now possible. She stands for very little, making very few statements or declarations, and proves herself to be among the least dutiful characters of the play. Again in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Nora demonstrates her ability to perform her duties in her dealings with Krogstad. Here, though she is at a disadvantage, she still manages to a large extent to direct the courses of action—showing that her resourcefulness comes to her aid in performing her duties.
She is not afraid to stoop to manipulation in order that her obligations are fulfilled. She knows when to act and when to be still and let others do the acting for her. Though she appears not to, she directs Mrs. Linde to use her influence with Krogstad to help her in her situation. After pouring out her woes to Mrs. Linde, Nora makes a false attempt to deter her when she offers to talk to Krogstad. Nora says, “Don’t; he’ll do you some harm,” fully knowing it to be untrue. Nora’s follow up to this deterrent almost nullifies it: “Here’s his card. But the letter, the letter-!
” This ability to manipulate people and situations is also evidence of the extents to which she will go in order to fulfil her duty to her husband. In contrast to this, Mrs. Linde’s attempt at dutifulness within her own marriage and after pale in comparison to Nora’s She has tried her hand at business, she says, “I had to fight my way by keeping a shop, a little school, anything I could turn my hand to. ” However, this was to no avail. She is still without much money and, though she was married to a rich man, has accomplished not nearly as much as Nora has.
Her duty appears to have been directed toward herself and her own enrichment via marriage to a wealthy man. She has demonstrated no strength in her duty toward him in maintaining (or even adding to) the wealth that they once possessed. Nora again proves herself more able even than her husband to control situations—and the success she demonstrates a determination born of her dutiful characteristics. It is here, however, that her dutifulness shifts from her husband toward herself. Even though Torvald does find out about the loan, she discovers his true colors and is no longer led by his desires or taken in by his sweetness.
He tempts her with all his charms and fails. He declares at first when the truth comes out, “you have inherited- no religion, no morality, no sense of duty,” yet a few minutes later when he receives the forged note he says, “I know that what you did was all for love of me. ” He shows want of tact and quick-wittedness to effect a recovery, and Nora’s reason allows her to see this. Meanwhile, her new-found duty toward herself gives her the strength to leave him. She acts in her own best interest, though societal norms and her love for Torvald would have dictated that she remain.
In the two plays, Nora and Antigone prove to be the most dutiful characters. While Creon, Mrs. Linde, Torvald and Ismene demonstrate very little (or selfish) duty, Nora and Antigone demonstrate a self-sacrificial duty that stems from loyalty and love of their families. They are willing to do what they feel they must, though odds are pitted against them, and they act even though they may fear the consequences. The events of the two plays Antigone and A Doll’s House are driven by the dutiful figures (Antigone and Nora) that are able to perform feats despite not having the real power to do so. Their duty drives them to accomplish these acts.
Both leading characters’ unwillingness to allow events to deny them of their desires to help their family demonstrates the depth to which their loyalty ran, and they prove themselves more dutiful than others who accomplish less even with more resources. Works Cited Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Trans. By William Archer. http://academics. triton. edu/uc/files/ dollshse. html. Sophocles. Antigone. Trans. By Ian Johnston of Malaspina Nanaimo: University-College, Canada, http://www. mala. bc. ca/~johnstoi/sophocles/antigone. htm Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. The Harvard Classics. http://www. bartleby. com/8/5/