During the Nazi occupation of France, Jean Anouilh produced an adaptation of Sophocles’ tragedy, Antigone, as a representation of the struggle between those collaborating with the occupants and those resisting them. While it is possible to read Anouilh’s Antigone as a ‘texte de la Resistance’, it can also be interpreted as an apologia for the Nazis’ severe, authoritarian behavior. The two key passages selected are crucial to the development of the play in that they highlight the clash between ideologies. While Antigone’s speech offers an insight into her idealistic world view, Creon’s dialogue exposes his pragmatic approach to life. This conflict of thought and action epitomizes the conflict then occurring in France. Antigone embodies the French Resistance, while Creon is the avatar of the Vichy government. The following commentary will explore not only the contrasting world views put forth by Anouilh, but also the various literary techniques he makes use of and the importance of the key passages in relation to the play as a whole.
In the cases of both Creon and Antigone, Anouilh signifies the importance of the French war-time existentialist creed of the importance of determining one’s fate based upon one’s view of life. Perhaps the clearest indication of this comes when she tells Creon: “Yes I am ugly. Father was ugly too. But Father became beautiful”[Passage A, line 21]. This refers to Oedipus’s catharsis in Sophocles’s trilogy, whereby he blinded himself and went out onto the roads as a beggar to repent for his unwitting crimes of killing his father and marrying his mother and highlights the need for a choice to be willingly made by an individual to become ‘beautiful’. The use of short, simple sentences to express the transformation seems to simplify or purify the effort necessary for this self-transcendence to take place. Antigone’s tragic fate is foreshadowed, as Anouilh has her identify herself with her doomed father, Oedipus, as belonging to the “tribe that asks questions” [Passage A, line 15]. Anouilh also suggests that to be ‘beautiful’, one must be an indefatigable asker of questions about life and a seeker of answers to these.
The idealist is a variety of perfectionist in her striving for the truly noble, and therefore beautiful, life. This can be observed fully when Antigone declares: “I want everything of life, I do: and I want it now! It want it total, complete; otherwise a reject it”[Passage A, line 9]. It also portrays the element of extremism inherent in idealism since, when perfection is striven for, an extreme alternative, such as martyrdom or suicide may appear to be the only reaction available if one fails to attain it. This irrational behavior corresponds with the radical form of existentialism espoused by Sartre, Camus, and seemingly by Anouilh, during WWII: “I want to be sure of everything this very day; sure that everything will be as beautiful as when I was a little girl. If not, I want to die”[Passage A, line 11]. However, this also suggests a slightly child-like feature in Antigone’s character, one which carries a visionary sense of purity that does not seem applicable the adult world in which people understand and accept that life often consists of muddling through.
On the other hand, hope is typically a key component of a child’s world view; children tend to think that things will get better. This is avoided in Antigone’s version of idealism. Antigone explains further that when Oedipus became beautiful, he had attained a state of spiritual peace, one that arose from being “absolutely certain that nothing, nothing could save him”[Passage A, line 27]. The necessity of putting out any glimmers of uncalled for optimism emphasizes the central role that being resigned to hard truths, such as having to die for one’s chosen course of action, plays for the idealist existentialist. Yet this does not rule out the pursuit of happiness, as Anouilh has...