The Roles of Women in Candide vs Antigon
Throughout time the roles of women have been defined by society. As women we are told how we should behave and what is expected of women. In the past women were expected to play specific roles such as homemakers and caregivers.
Women enjoyed very few privileges because of their gender roles in society. Over time the roles of women have changed and it has become more acceptable to see women in nontraditional roles. However, in the two stories of Candide and Sophocles it is apparent that women are depicted as inferior and were perceived as tools for man’s pleasure. Both societies’ reveal discrimination, mistreatment, sexual exploitation and nontraditional behavior. We will explore the similarities and differences concerning the Weltanschauung (worldview) of the women’s role in society.
Candide and Antigone both have a sense of gender inequality in their societies as the stories show the dominance of men over women. For instance, in the play Antigone there is an intense battle between the role of men and women, Ismene informs Antigone that is has been long-established that, We must remember we are women born, unapt to cope with men; and, being ruled by mightier than ourselves, we have to hear these things and worse (Sophocles 3). Indicating the need for females to be obedient and submissive. Ismene implies women are controlled by mightier forces. The play demonstrated men’s aggressiveness and their need to dominate women by treating them as second-class citizens. Ismene is accustomed to being the inferior sex and will not compete with male forms of authority in their society. She is demonstrating the worldview of male domination and that women should fear men and be submissive. Consequently, Ismene fails to control her destiny and has a fear of male dominance over women which makes her refuse to bury her brother Polynices, as instructed by Creon (Sophocles 2).
There is a similar role of inequality demonstrated in Voltaire’s Candide. In Candide society views women as inferior being and as objects for man’s pleasure. The role of women in Candide describes how women experience suffering and mistreatment by the men in society. The female role is sexually exploited in spite of political connection and power. Women possess little importance or complexity as shown by Cunegonde, Paquette and the old women. Particularly, Cunegonde is depicted as a beautiful woman who is entirely dependent on the protection of men as she always faints at the sight of any disturbing event (Voltaire 18). She accepts the stereotypical roles as a woman and uses her beauty to her advantage as she thinks she has few options to survive as a woman in her society. For example, Cunegonde contemplates a marriage proposal of someone she does not love, You have been ravished by Bulgarians; a Jew and an Inquisitor have enjoyed your favours. Misfortune gives sufficient excuse (Voltaire 31).
Cunegonde never questions or disobeys the worldview therefore she has accepted sexual oppression and mistreatment. It is evident that the two texts display woman as sexual objects for men’s pleasure and second-class citizens whose roles are limited to stereotypical duties.
In both stories women had few options in their personal and public experiences. Antigone portrays women in ancient Greece as a neglected gender accustomed to traditional duties. Women were not consulted in matters concerning society. Their lives were dominated by male members of the family, either a father, husband or brother (Sophocles 33). In addition, women were found only valuable as mothers and wives. Antigone was described as, Unblest with any marriage, any care of children indicating that women were not blessed or worthy without a husband or children (Sophocles). It is apparent that the play Antigone presents women as inferior beings who are ruled by men and have limited roles in society.
In the play Candide, women are also considered to be sexual objects, controlled by men and less valuable to society Women endure suffering and mistreatment by males throughout the text. They are portrayed as a representation of sex in the culture. In particular, the old woman who is a victim of rape after an attack by pirates (Voltaire 25). The attackers grabbed the women in the region and enslaved them sexually. The old woman was admired by the captain consequently being raped several times. Later, she found a man to come to her aid only being betrayed and sold off in Algiers by the man (Sophocles 27). The story indicates that despite the atrocious act of rape among women, female gender considered it the customary way of doing things as rape of females was perceived as natural and the men who committed the act were branded heroes, their daughters, disemboweled and breathing their last having satisfied the natural wants of Bulgarian heroes (Voltaire 5). It is obvious that the women in Candide demonstrate that the female gender had little or no power during this period and it indicates that rape is embraced as unfortunate but a normal part of society.
Although there are many similarities regarding the worldview on the role of women in both stories, there are specific differences in the roles played by these women. The main difference is Sophocles depicts Antigone as being strong and brave. Antigone breaks away from the stereotypical role of women being obedient. She is willing to disobey her king in order to do what she feels is right.
For instance, Antigone possesses the characteristics of strong and determined female when she disobeys Creon, king of the Thebes by burying her brother Polynice who, the king instructed should be left to be devoured by dogs and fowls of the air (Sophocles 9). Therefore, by doing so, she broke away from the traditional role of a woman in a society dominated by males. She believed that the commandment of the Gods to perform a burial of the dead was more important than the instructions of King Creon. Sophocles depicts woman as highly motivate and morally courageous by fighting for her religious and political viewpoints. Antigone is brave as she places her family and beliefs above her life by refusing to allow man to interfere with responsibility of maintaining her principle values (Sophocles 17). Plagued by her loyalty to her brother buries Polynices even when her sister Ismene refuses to help her. Despite the negative stereotype of women in the society, Antigone has been depicted as strong, courageous and loyal.
Voltaire’s Candide is contrary to Antigone as Candide focuses on the exploitation woman as sexual objects for men and women tend to embrace it as traditions of their society. Not a single woman in Candide was brave enough to fight for their place, rights, and freedom in the social order in spite of women being enslaved to sex, controlled and mistreated by men. Cunegonde, Paquette, and the Old Woman are forced into prostitution, raped, and sexually exploited by the men. Women are valued for their beauty as it stated, But what is worse still is, that she has lost her beauty and has become horribly ugly (Voltaire 77). Women of this society exist as subjects of beauty and to please man. Despite the suffering and mistreatment that these three women have experience, they possess no power to protect themselves against the dominance of men. They are perceived to be weak and submissive. Unlike Antigone who fights to defend her beliefs, the women Candide accept the hand they are dealt and are faced with the atrocities of their time period.
It is obvious that the two tales depict women as lesser being in society whose roles have been restricted in both worldviews. The women in Candide accepted suffering and mistreatment as a norm of society. Whereas Sophocles created a character who defies the normal traditional role of a women. Antigone was willing to risk her life to standby her beliefs. Although the roles of women have changed throughout time women are still considered to be the inferior sex. Women have been able to embrace any role that one chooses but at times it is still be met with difficulty. It is apparent that even in the 21st century women are still faced with the adversities of the past. The difference is how one decides to handle their situation. Will you be an Antigone and fight for your beliefs or will you be a Cunegonde and fall victim to the worldview of society?
- Sophocles. Antigone. Dover Publications, 1993.
- Voltaire. Candide. Dover., 1991.
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