Professor ButtGHUM 20012 September 2003Life as a WomanWhen comparing great works of literature one must look beyond theobvious and delve deeper into the meaning of such works. One must considerthe time period in which the literature was produced and the condition ofthat society. Themes are an important aspect of literary works because itputs the work into a clearer perspective helping the reader to betterunderstand and possibly identify with the piece. Sophocles’ Antigone andChaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale share common themes as well differentthemes. I will explore the major theme that links these two works togetherand that theme exemplifying the strength of women. Although these twopieces were written in two different time frames as well as by twodifferent authors, I will demonstrate how the two main characters in eachpiece show characteristics of strong women but also the gender differencesin which they were immersed.
The Greek tragedy Antigone by Sophocles is one of the first dramaticplays that demonstrates the different roles women play in society. Althoughancient Greece was a male-dominate society, Antigone, portrays women asbeing strong and capable of making wise decisions. In this famous tragedy,Sophocles uses the character Antigone to show the strength of a woman.
Traditionally women are characterized as being the weaker sex and not equalto men.. Through the character of Antigone, women finally get to presentrealistic viewpoints about their character. Antigone’s spirit is filledwith courage, passion and fury; which allows her to symbolize the veryessence of women. She is strong enough to do what her conscious tells herdespite the laws they have been set before her. Many examples in the playprove that Antigone’s character is very capable of making her owndecisions. First, Antigone opposes Creon’s law and buries her brotherbecause she feels as though it is her responsibiliy (A 135). This showsthat she has rational thought and stands up to do what she believes in herheart is true, even if that meant going against the law. Secondly, Antigoneshows how determined she is by accepting her consequences with pride (A141). She does not try to hide that she is responsible for breaking Creon’slaw and she takes all the credit. All the while she maintains her strengthbecause she truly believes in her actions. These sorts of actionsultimately prove that Antigone is courageous and willing to stand up tomen, which was completely against the norm at this time.
The play is also filled with instances of a sexist male viewpoint.
Creon rules the kingdom with a zero-tolerance attitude and demonstrates hisprejudices towards women throughout the play. First, Creon is so upset thathis laws are broken and even more so when he finds out it was by a woman.
(C 141). He tries to act as prideful as possible and he states that womenare not stronger than men and because of that men will never lose to women(A 150). This is proof that Creon does not see women as equal to theauthority of men. He feels that women have no common sense and, therefore,must be punished for their irrationality.
Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath Tale shows the same kind of genderdifferences and the determination of a woman to be above those differencesbut does so in a very different way. Alice is the main character’s name andshe is very different from women in society during this time. This lady isvery proud of what she has accomplished in life (C 174). Also, to defendher ways she uses logic and reason, thus showing that she too has rationalthought(C 175,176). Although one would imagine the Lady of Bath to beashamed of her way of life, she simply is not. Throughout Alice’sstorytelling, the characters tend to attack her because of the way shecarries herself. The other characters feel as though a woman should notportray herself as Alice does. (C 176). She simply comes back using simplelogic and reasoning to defend herself. Her basic method of thinking is thatif God did not want one to have sex, he would not of given the human racethe ability to do so (C 176). Alice’s behavior is also very up-front andshe enjoys talking a great deal. Women were not so forward with theirthinking and were represented to be meek and submissive. The author doesnot go into judging Alice as he leaves the readers to judge her of herbehaviour that was most unusual for that time period. As seen the Wife ofBath is proud of her lifestyle and will go to great lengths to defend it.
She demonstrates that she won’t be bound by the conventional way oflife because it is not fulfilling to her. She feels as though she is doingthe right thing because God would want her to. This is the same situationwith Antigone for she feels as though she was following what the Godswanted as well, which gave her the strength to stand up for what shebelieved in. The Wife of Bath and Antigone share the same common beliefthat if they are going by what the Gods want, then what society thinks ofthem holds no relevance to them. Through these two characters women areable to uplift themselves from the chains that bound them down. They cansee themselves as equals and will no longer have to feel as though they arethe lesser sex. These two literary works are great examples of strong-minded and determined women who will not succumb to the wills of men.
Works CitedChaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. New York: Random House, 1965.
Sophocles. The Tragedies of Sophocles. New York: Books for Libraries Press,1972.