An analysis of law and justice in Antigone and Trifles
Dr. Rosa Vallejo
INGL 3012 LI1
March 19, 2011
"The law is the law": an analysis of law and justice in Antigone and Trifles
“Objection!” The lawyer acts quickly in an attempt to disallow a certain piece of evidence. He or she considers the evidence unjust and opposes its use. The lawyer’s opposition may bear fruit in the form of a rejection to said piece of evidence. Much like a lawyer opposes an unjust piece of evidence, the protagonists in Sophocles’s Antigone and Susan Glaspell’s Trifles oppose the law, since they consider it unjust. Their opposition bears fruit as well: the characters end up breaking the law. Yet while their actions are crystal clear, the characters’ motivations are somewhat foggy. Why do they consider the law unjust? What determines the justice of a law? Both Sophocles' Antigone and Susan Glaspell's Trifles coincide: the characters feel the law is unjust because it goes against tradition and unwritten law, and/or takes away something they cannot recover.
If the concepts of justice and law are to be explored, it is only logical that base definitions be established for these concepts. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, justice is : 2. a : the quality of being just, impartial, or fair
b (1) : the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2) : conformity to this principle or ideal : righteousness c : the quality of conforming to law
3. conformity to truth, fact, or reason
Based on this definition, justice will be interpreted as the ideal of righteousness or right action, based on truth, fact or reason.
The concept of justice has been defined, but what about law? Once again, the Merriam-Webster dictionary will serve as a guiding light. According to said dictionary, law is: 1. a (1) : a binding custom or practice of a community : a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority (2) : the whole body of such customs, practices, or rules. Hence, the concept of law will refer to a tradition or practice recognized as binding or enforced by a dominating authority.
Two fundamental concepts have been established, but how are these concepts perceived in the pieces? Obviously, the concept of law is related to authority. This relationship is very clear in Antigone, as it is Creon (the current king) who proclaims, whilst discussing Polyneices: " none shall grace him with sepulture or lament, but leave him unburied, a corpse for birds and dogs to eat, a ghastly sight of shame" (6 [online source]). The law (Creon) had established that the corpse of Polyneices was to be left unburied; this was to be a lesson to all enemies of Thebes.
Yet, was this law just? Antigone clearly believes it is not. She decides that she must bury her brother no matter what the consequences. Are her actions just? As previously established, justice refers to righteous action that conforms to truth, fact, or reason. Interestingly enough, while attempting to persuade Ismene to help her, Antigone tells her (Ismene) that if she will not help her (Antigone) bury their brother , she (Ismene) will " be guilty of dishonouring laws which the gods have stablished in honour" (3 [online source]). Based on this statement, it would seem that the unwritten laws of ancient Greek tradition and religion demanded that the body be buried. Clearly, Antigone has truth and fact on her side, so to speak.
In order to truly be just, however, Antigone also needs to conform to reason. Does she meet this final requirement? To have reason usually means to have a "rational ground or motive", according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. In her discussion with Creon, Antigone declares: For it was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a...