A Character Comparison: Nora vs. Antigone

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Ian Gidley
IB English I
May 17, 2005
World Literature Paper I
A Character Comparison: Nora Vs. Antigone

In the novels A Doll's House and Antigone, Ibsen and Sophocles respectively create two lead female characters, Nora and Antigone, who confront society's expectations of women in fundamentally different ways. Nora goes against the grain of middle class society by first forging her father's signature and then deceiving her husband, Torvald, throughout their marriage; Antigone, on the other hand, openly challenges and defies the rule of men, including her uncle and King of Thebes, Creon. Although Nora and Antigone share some comparable personality traits, like being strong willed and motivated, they confront the men in their lives and their comparable societies in two distinctive ways, which, as a result, leads to two differing denouements.

Nearly every society, Nora and Antigone's are no exception, dictates a specific place or purpose for women, and while Nora and Antigone's respective societies possess some similarities regarding women's place and purpose, they contain several important differences. In Antigone, for example, the relative worth and status of women in Thebian society seems clear; women are to submit to the rule of man. Ismene suggests this submissive attribute of women in Thebian society when she begs Antigone not to defy Creon's commands, "Remind ourselves that we are women and as such are not made to fight with men." (193) Evidently the Thebian society controlled by men has kept a lid on women's individuality so much so that even a member of the royal family, Ismene, speaks of the futility in attempting to clash with the rule of man. Furthermore, Creon asks Antigone if she is "ashamed to differ from such men [the Chorus]?" (212) This suggests that in Thebian society when an individual, such as Antigone, disregards the society's generally believed ideology; they are impelled by others to feel ashamed. For most in Thebian society, the social isolation and induced shame brought about by being 'unique' would steer the individual back towards the widespread held principles. However, it can be observed that Antigone is far too strong willed to submit to society's standards for behavior, and even Creon states "submission [to men] is a thing she's never learned." (211) In A Doll's House as well, women such as Nora have many restraints that keep them from performing certain actions, even if they are good intentioned. For instance, in Nora's society "a wife cannot borrow without her husband's consent." (12) Not only that, but Nora seems to rely on the men in her life, mainly Torvald to perform various tasks for her. "I can't hit upon anything that will do; everything I think of seems so silly and insignificant." "Does my little Nora acknowledge that at last?" (27) Torvald here illustrates the fact that Nora's and consequently women's place in society is dictated by the rule of man - women can make few decisions without the assistance of men. Moreover when Nora asks Torvald to reinstate Krogstad to the bank, he blatantly refuses, stating, "Is it to get about now that the new manager has changed his mind at his wife's bidding ¾" "Do you suppose I am going to make myself ridiculous before my whole staff...?" (35) For anyone to sway Torvald would be 'ridiculous', but it being his own wife, that he supposedly has ultimate control over, would be unheard of. Nearing the end of the play, Torvald shows his true colors to Nora, stating that "I would gladly work night and day for you, Nora ¾ bear sorrow and want for you sake. But no man would sacrifice his honor for the one he loves." (66) This short statement by Torvald exemplifies the fact that in the middle class society of Torvald time, women were simply possessions, love items that are below the status of a man's honor, and according to Torvald no man would give up that honor for that women. This undoubtedly parallels Creon own beliefs as in his introduction...
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