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A Character Comparison: Nora Vs. 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


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