Conscience vs. Society Conscience and society are often in conflict with one another. Your culture and the people around you may be telling you to do one thing, while in your heart; you feel that a different way is the way to go. This is exactly what happens in Sophocles’ play Antigone. Ismene, Haimon, and Creon all have a difficult time choosing between following what their conscience is saying and what society thinks, which leads to conflict between the characters. Ismene faces this conflict of conscience vs. society when deciding whether to help Antigone bury Polyneices or not.
When Antigone asks her if she is going to bury him with her, and if she even cares about her brothers, Ismene says “They mean a great deal to me; but I have no strength to break laws that were made for the public good. ” (Prologue, 62-63) Ismene wants Polyneices to have a proper burial as much as Antigone does, but she does not feel that it is worth the risk of her own death. She has to choose between risking her life to bury her brother, or living with the guilt of Polneices never being fully put to rest. This leads to conflict between her and Antigone because she feels abandoned by her sisters’ choice to not help her.
Haimon faces the problem of conflict vs. society when he talks to his father, Creon. After Creon sentences Antigone to death for breaking his law about burying Polyneices, Haimon says; “For me your judgments and the ways you act on them are good. I shall follow them… don’t let you mind dwell on just one thought, that what you say is right and nothing else. ” (Scene 3, 720-21 and 799-800) At first, Haimon is saying that he will follow and agree to anything his father does or says; but then, he goes on to say that his judgments may not be correct and that he should stay more open-minded on his decision.
At first, Haimon starts by saying what his father would want him to say, but then changes his mind and speaks of what he knows is right. This leads to conflict between his father and him because he is not just saying what his father wants to hear anymore. Finally, Creon faces this conflict after Teiresias shares his prophecy. When he tells Creon of his fate if he does not bury Polyneices and free Antigone, he faces a hard decision: “It’s dreadful to give way, but to resist and let destruction hammer down my spirit, – that is a fearful option too. (Scene 5, 1225-27) He has to choose between what everyone (even the gods) wants to happen, which is to let Antigone go and give her brother a proper burial, and what he thinks is right, which is to kill Antigone off and let Polyneices rot on the battlefield. This is the first time in the play he actually listens to reason, even if it is for his own benefit. This leads to conflict within himself. The characters in this play go through many conflicts, a lot of which have to do with choosing between what society thinks and what that character thinks.
Ismene has to choose between following the law and breaking it to bury her brother, Haimon has to choose between following his father or going against him for the woman he loves, and Creon must choose between letting Antigone die and Polyneices stay unburied or burying him and letting Antigone go. This all leads to conflict between the characters and themselves. The concept of conscience vs. society is nothing new and will continue to be a point of conflict in peoples’ lives until the day they die.
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