In Jean Anouilh’s version of the play, Antigone, the protagonist, Antigone, is interpreted as a member of the resistance to despotism that parallels the antifascist French resistance against the Nazi occupation. Anouilh’s controversial play was performed in 1944 under Nazi-controlled Paris, so when Antigone sacrifices her life to defy the oppressive ruler Creon, Anouilh makes Antigone not only a heroine, but also a symbol for resistance. Anouilh based his play on Sophocles’ version, which was written in 442 BC in Ancient Greece.
However, Anouilh uses different literary devices such as anachronisms, allusions, similes and symbolism to relate the story to the most disturbing dilemma during his time in the 1940’s. He writes his play to show the importance in joining the French resistance, but he must also make his play acceptable to the controlling Nazis. As such, the play Antigone can be interpreted as a political allegory of Vichy France.During World War 2, much of the audience recognizes Creon as a representation of the Vichy government and identifies Antigone as the French Resistance. Creon is compared to Marshal Petain, the President of Vichy France during World War 2: “A real hero, a just ruler, a slave to his duty who sacrifices everything that is dear to him for the sake of his country.” (Anouilh, p. xlvii) Creon has a pragmatic personality and his arguments originate from the notion of compromise.
This can be compared to Petain compromising with the Germans. On the other hand, Antigone is a freedom fighter who resists tyranny and has a more thoughtful, absolutist perspective on life where compromise is intolerable. Throughout the play, Antigone watches Creon’s government belittle and asperse the individual conscience of his citizens, as Creon tries to persuade Antigone that he is protecting the country from turmoil. This kind of argument is similar to the one that the Vichy government used to legitimize itself. Antigone is prepared to resist Creon’s despotism alone. She is compared to the French Underground, disobeying Creon’s order by secretly burying her brother.On the surface, although the play is set in ancient Greece, Anouilh uses anachronisms such as coffee and nightclubs to create a disorienting effect to muddle the time period in which the play is taking place. This allows the audience to view a familiar tragedy play while relating it to the time period of the Nazi occupation in the 1940s.
More importantly, this ambiguity further adds to Anouilh’s goal of individual interpretation of his play, which allows the play to be accepted by both the oppressed French citizens and also by the ruling Nazis. Therefore, although Anouilh produced this play in the midst of World War II where it was staged under Nazi-occupied France, the Nazi authorized the play because they believed that this play helped justify the surprising success of the Nazi fascist dictatorship. In their eyes, Creon is a hero, and Antigone is a “degenerate, unintelligent madwoman whose revolt produces only anarchy, disaster, and death.” (Anouilh, p. xlvii) Despite the Nazis’ interpretation of the play, the majority see Antigone as the face to defy the pernicious components of the Nazi ideology: expansion, racial purity, power, and militarism. As Antigone symbolizes the French Resistance in Nazi-controlled France, Creon represents the Nazi collaborators justifying their actions as an attempt to prevent plunder and destruction in France.From the beginning, Anouilh uses symbolism to relate the characters in the play to figures during Vichy France. In the prologue, the omniscient Chorus addresses the audience and presents all of its players.
The Chorus introduces the guards as “those three red-faced card players—they are the guards. One smells of garlic, another of beer; but they’re not a bad lot. They have wives they are afraid of, kids who are afraid of them; they’re bothered by the little day-to- day worries that beset us all. At the same time—they are policemen: eternally innocent, no matter what crimes are committed; eternally indifferent, for nothing that happens can matter to them. They are quite prepared to arrest anybody at all, including Creon himself, should the order be given by a new leader.” (Anouilh, p.
5) The three Guardsmen are important to the political allegory to represent both the fascist collaboration and the French police who betrayed their own citizens in support of the Nazis. Categorized as a trio, Anouilh portrays them as one foolish unit. With the mention that the Guards have wives and children, the audience sees that individually they are not bad people, but their job is to indifferently implement the commands and orders of their superiors. This indifference not only hardens them, also but makes them dangerously cruel as they are resistant to the effects of tragedy. The guards are a symbol in the matter that authority over the law determines enforcement of the law.Using symbolism and similes, Anouilh further portrays Antigone as a fascist heroine and Creon as support of the cruel and oppressive Nazi regime. When Antigone finds out about Creon’s weakness, she makes a declaration, “Poor Creon! My nails are broken, my fingers are bleeding, my arms are covered with the welts left by the paws of your guards—but I am a queen!” (Anouilh, p.
39) She gives an encouraging message to the Resistance as Antigone continues to be a tragic figure. Her insistence and her desire to resist tyranny is beyond human logic which makes her a beautiful martyr. Furthermore, during an argument between Antigone and Creon, Antigone states, “You disgust me, all of you, you and your happiness! And your life, that has to be loved at any price. You’re like dogs fawning on everyone they come across. With just little hope left every day- if you don’t expect too much… I don’t want to be sensible , and satisfied with a scrap! I want to be sure of having everything… Otherwise I prefer to die.” (Anouilh, p.46) In this quote, Anouilh uses a simile to compare Creon and the Nazis to dogs who use flattery to get everything they want, while citizens remain with leftover scraps. Antigone and the French resistance freedom fighters are willing to die rather than live in these horrific conditions of Nazi-occupied France.
Anouilh’s Antigone can be interpreted as a political allegory of Vichy France as the play sends a strong message for the French citizens under the Nazi occupation. Anouilh incorporates just enough ambiguity in his play that the Nazis do not censor it and allow the play to be shown in France during this time period. Because the setting is the rise of Nazi power around the end of World War II, Antigone’s ultimate sacrifice of her own life is a powerful symbol for justice. Anouilh relates the characters in his play to different groups who participated on different sides in the French Resistance. Creon represents Marshal Petain who blindly supported the Nazi fascist dictatorship, and the Guards are the French police or fascist collaborators who co-operated with the Nazis. As Antigone dies for her cause, she vocalizes the most powerful of personal and social politics as she symbolizes resistance to despotism.
Her adamance to fight against tyranny represents the antifascist French resistance in opposition to the Nazi occupation. By cleverly writing his play in a way that is accepted by both sides, Anouilh is able to effectively move his audience, with his judicious use of different literary devices, to see the importance in joining and assisting the French Resistance.