Professor Butt GHUM 200 12 September 2003 Life as a Woman When comparing great works of literature one must look beyond the obvious and delve deeper into the meaning of such works. One must consider the time period in which the literature was produced and the condition of that society. Themes are an important aspect of literary works because it puts the work into a clearer perspective helping the reader to better understand and possibly identify with the piece. Sophocles’ Antigone and Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale share common themes as well different themes.
I will explore the major theme that links these two works together and that theme exemplifying the strength of women. Although these two pieces were written in two different time frames as well as by two different authors, I will demonstrate how the two main characters in each piece show characteristics of strong women but also the gender differences in which they were immersed. The Greek tragedy Antigone by Sophocles is one of the first dramatic plays that demonstrates the different roles women play in society. Although ancient Greece was a male-dominate society, Antigone, portrays women as being 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 equal to men.. Through the character of Antigone, women finally get to present realistic viewpoints about their character. Antigone’s spirit is filled with courage, passion and fury; which allows her to symbolize the very essence of women.
She is strong enough to do what her conscious tells her despite the laws they have been set before her. Many examples in the play prove that Antigone’s character is very capable of making her own decisions. First, Antigone opposes Creon’s law and buries her brother because she feels as though it is her responsibiliy (A 135). This shows that she has rational thought and stands up to do what she believes in her heart is true, even if that meant going against the law. Secondly, Antigone shows how determined she is by accepting her consequences with pride (A 141). She does not try to hide that she is responsible for breaking Creon’s law and she takes all the credit.
All the while she maintains her strength because she truly believes in her actions. These sorts of actions ultimately prove that Antigone is courageous and willing to stand up to men, 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 his prejudices towards women throughout the play. First, Creon is so upset that his 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 women are 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 the authority 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 gender differences and the determination of a woman to be above those differences but does so in a very different way. Alice is the main character’s name and she is very different from women in society during this time.
This lady is very proud of what she has accomplished in life (C 174). Also, to defend her ways she uses logic and reason, thus showing that she too has rational thought(C 175,176). Although one would imagine the Lady of Bath to be ashamed of her way of life, she simply is not. Throughout Alice’s storytelling, the characters tend to attack her because of the way she carries herself. The other characters feel as though a woman should not portray herself as Alice does.
(C 176). She simply comes back using simple logic and reasoning to defend herself. Her basic method of thinking is that if God did not want one to have sex, he would not of given the human race the ability to do so (C 176). Alice’s behavior is also very up-front and she enjoys talking a great deal.
Women were not so forward with their thinking and were represented to be meek and submissive. The author does not go into judging Alice as he leaves the readers to judge her of her behaviour that was most unusual for that time period. As seen the Wife of Bath 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 of life because it is not fulfilling to her. She feels as though she is doing the right thing because God would want her to. This is the same situation with Antigone for she feels as though she was following what the Gods wanted as well, which gave her the strength to stand up for what she believed in.
The Wife of Bath and Antigone share the same common belief that if they are going by what the Gods want, then what society thinks of them holds no relevance to them. Through these two characters women are able to uplift themselves from the chains that bound them down. They can see themselves as equals and will no longer have to feel as though they are the 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 Cited Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales.
New York: Random House, 1965. Sophocles. The Tragedies of Sophocles. New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1972.