Antigone: Book 6
6. Antigone’s Death
The Chorus hurries in to plead with Creon to let Antigone live. He tells the Chorus that Antigone was born to die and that burying Polynices was an excuse. The Chorus objects that Antigone is still a child. Haemon also rushes in as Creon embraces him and tells him to forget Antigone. Haemon tries to make his father change his mind. Creon says that this is the day his childhood is over; he will have to leave behind his youthful ideas of love. Haemon pleads with his father to be the kind, loving parent he knew as a child. Creon does not listen but tells his son to stand up straight and face the world. Haemon runs out yelling for his beloved Antigone.
The Chorus tells Creon Haemon has been deeply wounded, and he must do something. Creon replies that they have all been wounded. The Guards and Jonas enter with Antigone, telling Creon a mob has broken into the palace. Antigone asks him to get rid of the mob, so she can die in peace. He leaves with the Guards, leaving Jonas alone to watch Antigone. Antigone knows that Jonas is the last person she will see before she dies, so she asks him about his life.
He goes on about a soldier’s life and the competition with the other officers and men. Antigone asks him if he knows whether dying hurts. He does not know, but he tells her she will be executed by being walled up alive in a cave. Antigone becomes afraid and decides to dictate a letter to Haemon through Jonas. She is unable to finish, except to say “forgive me; I love you,” and when Jonas asks whom the letter is for, the Guards come in before she can say to march her away. She leaves peacefully.
Commentary on Antigone’s Death
The Chorus and Haemon plead with Creon to stop the execution. They give him alternatives. He could smuggle her out of the city. He could say she is insane and lock her up. They remind him that if she dies, “We shall carry the scar of her death for centuries” (p. 60). They clearly remind him that he is making her a martyr, both a human and political mistake. He responds there is nothing to do; if he changes the sentence, he is “condemning” her to live. She doesn’t want that. Besides, the mob is howling for her death.
Haemon tries to touch his father’s humanity by pleading for the woman he loves, saying he will not live without her. Creon tries to change the horror of Antigone’s death into a rite of passage for his son. This is Haemon’s “day of sorrow” when he must “take up the burden of manhood” (p. 62). Haemon remembers his father’s “giant strength” that used to protect him (p. 62). He tells his father he is not himself. He pleads with him not to desert him and “shrink into nothingness” (p. 62). Creon is forcing him into disowning his own father. Creon says that Haemon has no right to judge him. He must see his father as he is. Creon represents “what it means to grow up and be a man” (p. 62). Haemon rushes out, and the Chorus warns Creon his son will go mad. Creon will not back down. He plays his role to the end as Antigone does.
Haemon’s exchange with Creon completes Creon’s debate with Antigone. The young people are of one mind: they opt for the innocence of passionate life, moral integrity, and ideals. Creon wants them both to recognize that being an adult means giving up childhood innocence. He equates integrity and human empathy with childish thinking. Haemon’s response is that his father is not himself. He has become a monster. Where is his loving father?
The scene between Jonas and Antigone in the prison is a moment of pause as she struggles to accept her death. She decides Creon is right: death is terrible. Yet she does not back down. First, she tries to make a human contact with her guard, for he is the last person she will ever talk to. She gets him to chat about his life and asks him questions about being a Guard. He gets into his own story so much that he forgets she is waiting to die. She has to interrupt him to ask whether it hurts to die. He keeps shrugging off her question and goes back to his own story. He is not cruel but seems incapable of the sympathy she needs. He cannot put himself in her place. When she asks him if he loves his children, he thinks the question too personal and says, “What’s that got to do with you?” (p. 64)
Jonas only obliges her about writing a letter to Haemon when she bribes him with a gold ring. He has trouble keeping up with her thoughts as she dictates the words. She keeps asking him to scratch out some sentences, such as that she doesn’t know what she is dying for. She decides that is too personal to share: “as if they saw me naked and touched me, after I was dead” (p. 67). Jonas never gets the name of the recipient, so her last message is never delivered. Jonas comments, “Damn funny letter.” Antigone in a moment of grim humor agrees: “I know” (p. 68).
The statement that she doesn’t know what she is dying for does not mean she is breaking down, but that death no longer seems to be about a cause. It is truly an “absurd” gesture. As she tells Creon, she does it for herself, of her own free will, as a protest to his state, and that is enough of a reason.