Kateesha McGregor

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.

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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.