The Fate Vs. Free Will debate has long been adapted within literary texts, but Anne Carson’s Antigonick puts a spin on it by transforming it to be a debate between two texts. Antigonick is an adapted version of Sophocles’ Antigone, which tells the tale of a defiant girl who ultimately teaches the King a lesson on values and morality. Antigone’s defiance in the original reflects the “free will” side of the debate, even though she was born unfortunate. Carson’s Antigonick accentuates the “fate” aspect by adding in elements of nature that suggest that the situation is, for the most part, out of Antigone’s control. Antigonick blends the flaming nature of the character of Antigone with real elements of nature. Both Antigone and Antigonick begin darkly, with the death of Eteocles and Polynices who died fighting for the throne in the War of Thebes.
Antigonick begins to bring in the descriptions of nature when the Chorus provides commentary on the conversation between Ismene and Antigone:
[…] overweened our walls seven spears in his mouth instead of teeth that one fled before filling his cheeks with blood before any fire the noise of war was stretched along his back the boaster fled. (12)
The above passage refers to the battle of Thebes and suggests a form of cowardice because it refers to “the man from Argos” who fled. Fire imagery accompanies the aspect of cowardice, ultimately suggesting that man is helpless in the face of nature. Further down in the Chorus’ passage, Carson writes: Zeus hates a boaster saw an ocean of them coming at us. (12)
The use of the word “ocean,” something typically associated with unpredictable conditions is used to describe a mass amount of ego-driven men, something which can also be unpredictable, plowing forward on the battlefield. Again, Carson uses nature imagery to demonstrate that unpredictability and fate overpower the free will aspect. The two above passages are especially significant as it shows that fate is overpowering free will even during the War of Thebes, before the main part of Antigone’s story even begins. Early on in the story, readers are introduced to a list of Kreon’s verbs for the day. The verbs are dark, harsh, rhyming words that ultimately encompass every negative aspect of Kreon. Once again, the Chorus provides commentary that includes nature imagery to explain the situation when Kreon finds out that someone has buried Polynices body.
His footsteps so perilously soft across the sea in marble water up the stiff blue waves and every Tuesday down he grinds the astonishable earth with horse and shatter shatters too the cheeks of birds and traps them in his forest headlights […]. (15)
The above passage begins by referencing the great power that Kreon holds. The description of soft footsteps across the sea evokes imagery of something surreal, ultimately giving more credit to Kreon. The “marble water” describes the wealth, and the description of Kreon on the horse galloping away while breaking divots into the ground is a powerful analogy to his ability to break nature, something that should be the highest and most unchallengeable power. Kreon’s immense power is undeniable, but the thought of any individual being either equally or more powerful than nature foreshadows a horrendous downfall for all involved.
Moving forward with the plot line, Kreon finds no remorse in killing Antigone and calls for the guards to take her away. The chorus brings back the nature imagery to show that Antigone is helpless in the face of fate:
One last root was reaching for the light in the house of Oidipus… but the bloody dust of death… hacks her down mows her down…all the tall mad mountains of her mind… (23).
The description of a plant root showing one last effort to survive against what fate has decided parallels the idea of the helpless versus the great. The “house of Oidipus” reminds us readers that Antigone was born with the odds against her since she was the daughter of her brother and mother’s marriage. The description of death by being limited in mind is what ultimately clues readers that Antigone will not live. Antigone prides herself on her ability to analyze and be vocal, and restriction of this will surely kill her. Again, Carson’s incorporation of nature exemplifies the inability of man to surpass what is fate. Nature’s reign as a representation of fate, or the unchallengeable, comes to a climax when Tiresias, the blind prophet, speaks to Kreon about what wrong he has done:
You’ve made a structural mistake with life and death…my dear you’ve put the living underground… and kept the dead up here…that is so wrong that is so wrong. (35-36)
This passage distinguishes between two types of power: the power that a King holds, and the power that fate holds. From the very beginning of the story, both Kreon and fate saw the character of Antigone as being doomed, but any action taken should have only been on the part of fate, not Kreon. The act of Kreon ordering Antigone to be buried alive interfered with fate’s plan, and since fate holds more power than Kreon, he will surely be punished.
Whether or not it was intended, Carson’s story of Antigonick put a spin on the classic Antigone by emphasizing the idea that fate overrules free will through the incorporation of nature imagery. It effectively captures the scope of Sophocles’ original plotline but adds another element that changes the reader’s perspective of how and why bad things happen. From the very beginning when readers are given a description of the War of Thebes, fire sets the tone for how helpless man is in the face of something natural (and uncontrollable). This idea is challenged when Carson describes Kreon’s power and how he breaks the earth when riding on horseback, for the earth should (theoretically) be unbreakable. Carson nevertheless, does not fail to emphasize when fate fights back against Kreon. A character like Kreon has all of the power in the city, yet when he attempts to disrupt the order of fate, or nature, his world comes crumbling apart and he stands helpless. Carson’s Antigonick warns the reader to be more cognizant of the things that are out of our control, an idea that contrasts with the plot line of Antigone which suggests that the outcomes were due to actions of the individual.
Carson, Anne. Antigonick. New York: New Directions, 2015. Print.
Fagles, Robert. Sophocles – The Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus. New York: Penguin Literature, 1984. Print.