Reading the Secret Signs: The Art of Finding Symbols

Introduction: On Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality

Though in the modern world, all people are considered free and possessing equal rights, it has not always been this way. The road to the existing society where people enjoy equal rights and freedoms has been long and exhausting. Although there is a considerable gap between the Ancient Greece and the XIX-century world, the problem of liberty, not only physical, but also moral, intertwines these two epochs. That is why there is so much in common between Antigone, Sophocles’s drama, and Doll’s House, the creation of Henrik Ibsen.

To some extent, it must be admitted, each of the books suggests the ideas of feminism – in their embryo, of course, yet there can be no doubt that Doll House is one of the books that were the first heralds of the feminist epoch coming on. However, it must be admitted that the feminist ideas are shifted into the background of watch story, whereas in the center the demand for recognizing human rights is placed.

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Indeed, it would be rather unreasonable to interpret the play only as an anthem for feminist movement. In comparison to this story, Antigone, the drama by Sophocles, offers another idea of liberty, yet it aims at the same effect – the recognition of people’s rights, namely, the right to be self-sufficient and do the things that one considers right.

However, despite the common ideas, each author chooses his own symbols to convey these ideas to the public. Comparing the methods of the Ancient Greek philosopher and the XIX-century playwright, one can see the distinct difference between the methods that the two utilize, and at the same time trace the similarities between their approaches.

Burying Secrets: Antigone. Behind the Shadow of Death

The rich symbolism of the Greek tragedy offers a plethora of food for speculations. One of the most thought-provoking creations, the drama by Sophocles is saturated with metaphors, using the symbols that leave the most vivid and memorable impressions.

Considering the drama, one can notice instantly that the key symbol of Antigone is the death itself. Interpreted in a number of ways, this name makes the essence of the afterlife, the mysterious Hereafter – the world of the dead.

The world of the dead in Sophocles’s drama is considered as the place where one can be completely free – in constant to the life on earth, where each of the mere mortals is bound by the restrictions cats either by the gender issues, or by the political ideas, or any other ideas that prevent people to live their full life. Calling this place in a number of ways, Sophocles still leaves the basic idea of the mysterious afterlife interwoven into the drama.

Travelling down the land of the dead, Antigone claims: “Who did the deed the underworld knows well: A friend in word is never friend of mine” (Sophocles 53) Thus, exposing the underworld as the place where people obtain their freedom and where nothing can be concealed from the watchful eye of Hades, Sophocles raises the topic of freedom on earth.

Another peculiar recurrent symbol in the drama is birds – a large variety of birds that the reader can spot on the book pages. Describing the ease of their flight, Sophocles makes the reader compare these free creatures to people and realize how despicable the freedom of the humankind is.

Living in a Dollhouse: Ibsen and His Protest

Depicting the same idea of obtaining the needed liberty, Ibsen uses quite different means. Let along the striking difference of the lead characters in the two stories, the determined and decisive Antigone and the cowardice, chicken-hearted Nora, the books differ in the symbols they use.

Considering the symbolic means that were at Ibsen’s disposal, one can claim with certainty that Ibsen created a masterpiece of refinement and sad sarcasm.

If there is anything that can symbolize the lack of responsibility, self-sufficiency and liberty better than Nora herself, that is the Christmas tree used to decorate the Doll’s, that is, Nora’s, house.

Indeed, the beautiful and at the same time helpless, completely useless attribute of the holiday, the tree is much like the hostess of the house – just as weak and dependent on the support: ”The Christmas Tree is in the corner by the piano, stripped of its ornaments and with burnt-down candle-ends on its disheveled branches. Nora’s cloak and hat lying on the sofa” (Ibsen 39).

Such quick is the transition from the tree to Nora’s clothes – and, in fact, Nora herself – that the parallels drawn between the hostess and the article of the house decoration that it becomes obvious: Nora has never been a human being in its full sense – she has always led the life of complete dependence.

However, it would be erroneous to think that the symbols in Antigone and Doll’s House have nothing in common – at certain point they coincide, depicting the same things. A good example of such coincidence is the symbol of death that is also present in Doll’s House. However, in this drama, a black cross (Ibsen 48) serves as a symbol of passing away.

The last, but not the least is the name of the play – Doll’s House as a symbol of the state of dependence that Nora used to be in and that she escaped from so painfully. Though she is filled with the intense grief, Nora is still willing to get rid of the humiliating environment that she has been living in for so long. Thus, freeing herself, she comes close to the character of Sophocles drama, Antigone.

Conclusion: The Jailbreak

Despite the time gap between the two dramas, there is the common idea that intertwines them, making each story closer to the other. However, each of the authors reaches the highest level of expressivity with different means.

Resorting to the use of symbolism in their stories, the two writers create a range of metaphors that serve as the clues for the reader to follow. Triggering a number of associations and creating the vision of the epoch, these tiny details reveal what used to be hidden under the cover of the storyline.

It cannot be doubted that the symbols used by the writers are strikingly different, yet each of the metaphor used serves the same purpose, namely, emphasizing women’s dependence. It is quite remarkable that, despite the years passed since the times of Sophocles, the problem remains topical.

Perhaps, even with Ibsen’s attempts to free those that lack liberty in their own life, the issue still needs solution. No matter how hard it might be to admit it, this is the hard truth the humankind has to live with – or fight it until every single person can feel freed.

Works Cited

Ibsen, Henric. A Doll’s House: Unabridged. Clayton, DE: Prestwick House, Inc., 2005. Print.

Sophocles. Antigone. New York City, NY: ReadHowYouWant, 2008. Print.