Antigone Tragic Hero Essay Example


“Break a leg.” Without the common knowledge of the saying, it seems to be anexcruciating experience. But, in the world of theater it has an utterly different meaning. Theater is a classical form of entertainment. There are numerous genres of plays. Antigone is a well known example of Greek Tragedy: a popular theatre form in Ancient Greece. The Greek tale narrates the tragic life of Antigone, daughter of Oedipus. She endures many challenges with her family. Another well known play in the modern American genre is All My Sons, written by Arthur Miller. 

This play focuses on the Kellers - Joe, Kate and their son Chris. The Kellers face problems as one of Joe’s past mistakes creeps back into their lives. At first glance, both plays are vastly different from one another, as they have numerous differences such as plot, writing styles, and the distinct gap between time periods. However, they are not as different as they appear. They have one significant similarity. All My Sons mirrors Antigone’s Greek Tragedy in many ways. The main character instigated the primary conflict, there is a major death, and the Greek terms ‘hamartia’ and ‘catharsis’ play notable roles.

All My Sons’ main character, Joe Keller, had good intentions; nevertheless, his actions did provoke the major conflicts, just like Antigone. According to college professor, Edith Hall, Greek Tragedy is about “people trying to be good, but making mistakes” (National Theatre). Also Ancient History Encyclopedia publishing director, Cartwright, states it “often dealt with moral right and wrongs”. In Antigone, her brother, Polynices, is dead and her uncle, Creon the king of Thebes, forbade anyone to bury him. 

Yet Antigone believed it is her duty as his sister to complete the task, and she attempts to bury his body. This created a inner conflict for Creon, because he was obligated to put his own niece to death for breaking the law. Eventually she ended up being thrown in a cave and later found “hanged by the neck in a fine linen noose, strangled in her veil” (Sophocles 1348-1349). Her suicide led to more problems with her fiancé and fiancé’s mother, Eurydice, as they both killed themselves after they discovered Antigone’s dead body. On the other hand, Joe Keller and his business partner, Steve Deever, shipped defective airplane parts out for the military during a war, while being fully aware of the damages. 

Their shipment had a detrimental effect when twenty soldiers were killed due to the faulty airplane parts. Deever was sent to prison, but Keller lied about being involved and only served a short sentence. Eventually, his lie caught up to him as his son learned the truth and was revolted by his father’s actions. Keller justified his decision by saying, “I’m in business, a man is in business; a hundred and twenty cracked, you’re out of business” (Miller 70). This selfish behavior would seem to deem Keller an overall unlawful man, which contradicts the Greek Tragedy formula of the main character being a heroic figure. 

However, Keller then told his son, “Chris, I did it for you, it was a chance and I took it for you,” showing that he was wanting  be a good provider for his family. He was a good man for having a high priority for his family, but he is flawed as he never considered the consequences for the world beyond his own. It is clear Antigone and Keller both strongly valued family loyalty. However, their strong beliefs exceeded the limit and caused trouble for themselves and others. 

The play All My Sons had the same end result as Antigone: the main character died and “almost all the plays have someone die in the course of them” (Hall National Theatre). As stated before, Antigone hung herself in the cave where she was imprisoned. When Chris found out the truth about the incident, he was furious with his father. Keller was apprehensive that Chris would never forgive him. His wife, Kate, said to him, “if you told him that you want to pay for what you did,” suggesting Keller needs to do something to gain Chris’ forgiveness (Miller 76). 

So, Keller talked to Chris, but it turned into an argument. Finally, their argument ended abruptly with Keller finally realizing he should spend the night elsewhere. While Keller was supposedly getting his stuff, Chris and Kate were still arguing. Suddenly, they heard a strident gunshot coming from inside their house. It was Joe. He felt too burdened and thought he was righting a wrong by killing himself. Chris and his mom were hit by a tidal wave of grief. Chris cried, “mother, I didn't mean to,” blaming himself for what happened (84). But his mom responded, “dont, dear. Don’t take it on yourself” and the curtain closes (84). The two plays ended with characters dead and their family members mourning. 

All My Sons applies the Greek Tragedy terms hamartia and catharsis. College lecturer, Laura Swift, describes catharsis as “a cleansing process that is traumatic, but a good experience that you come out [...] feeling drained” (National Theatre). Another professor explains hamartia as “the error of judgement and tragedies are actually about real people making bad decisions” (National Theatre). In Antigone, hamartia is noticeably shown through King Creon. He erred in judgment when he commanded Antigone to be punished for her actions and sent her to be locked up. 

This decision lead to him losing several family members. In All My Sons, Keller’s hamartia was when he chose to fib about participation in the damaged airplane parts. Although his lie did not have immediate consequences, it did cause immense problems later on. The remorse of his mistake triggered him to commit suicide. The Chorus, a group of townspeople, experienced a catharsis from the deaths of Antigone, Haemon and Eurydice. The deaths in some sense were a relief since they ended the main conflict, but they also set off plenty of emotions for the Chorus.

The Chorus felt somber for the deceased and for Creon’s loss. Comparable to All My Sons, Joe’s death undoubtedly disheartened the readers. Therefore, it could be argued that the audience is not confronted by a catharsis, as any loss of a family member is a dreadful experience. But, a catharsis occurred when Kate alleviated the grief by telling Chris to “forget now. Live” (Miller 84). The readers’ sadness was eased as they read that Kate reminded her son not to live a life of desolation, but to live a purposeful one. Hamartia and catharsis certainly were portrayed in All My Sons. 

All My Sons resembles Antigone’s Greek Tragedy due to the fact that the main character provokes the primary main conflict, there is a momentous death, and the Greek terms ‘hamartia’ and ‘catharsis’ play a crucial role. Joe Keller and Antigone were both tragic heroes who strived to honor their families. But, ultimately their deeds led to their downfalls.  

Works Cited

Cartwright, Mark. “Greek Tragedy.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History 

Encyclopedia, 5 Mar. 2019, www.ancient.eu/Greek_Tragedy/.

Jago, Carol, et al. Literature & Composition: Reading, Writing, Thinking. Bedford/St. 

Martin's, 2011.

Miller, Arthur, and C. W. E. Bigsby. All My Sons: a Drama in Three Acts. Penguin Books, 

2008.

Theatre, National, director. “An Introduction to Greek Tragedy.” YouTube, YouTube, 

11 Jan. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSr6mP-zxUc.

 

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