Essay, Research Paper: Judgments And Antigone

Literature: Crime and Punishment

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Throughout history mankind has always been faced with judgments. According the
Oxford English Dictionary, judgment means “the mental ability to form an
opinion” (AHD, 454). We are forced to make decisions based on our “mental
opinions.” Then, one’s actions are based on ‘mental opinions’ which are
judged by other people. Then there is the inevitable justification of these
actions by other people or the person themselves. According the Oxford English
Dictionary, justify means “to demonstrate sufficient legal reason for (an
action taken)” (456). Once those actions are justified, they are considered
morally and legally acceptable and are therefore are left alone. However, many
times in a person’s life, some decisions based on judgments are not
justifiable. That is what causes conflict and separation among people. Often
this disparity in perception on judgment leads to crime and punishment. This is
very apparent in young children. If a younger brother bothers his older sibling,
the older sibling often cannot understand why. So he or she feels that the
younger sibling’s action is not justifiable. Since it cannot logically be
justified, the older brother or sister usually decides to punish the younger
sibling by hitting him or her. This leads to crime and punishment. Now it is
difficult for the parents of those children to justify the reason for argument.
So they punish their children by putting them in ‘timeout’. And this whole
concept is what underlines both Antigone, by Sophocles and The Reader, by
Bernard Schlink. In both stories, judgments arise and decisions are made based
on those judgments. When those judgments cannot be justified, they are sent to
be judged upon by a higher authority. This is all due to a difference in opinion
which leads back to whether those unjustifiable decisions were considered a
crime that deserve punishment. The focus of this paper is to point out some
decisions based on judgments that could not be justified. It is also a
discussion questions the possibility of justification in these judgments. When a
person thinks of Antigone, his or her first thought is usually, “Oh yes, I
know her, she was that tragic hero.” This shows that Antigone did something
right, and was falsely accused because one, heroes do not ever do anything
wrong, and two, something tragic or uncalled for happened to her. Basically,
Antigone lived with her sister in their uncle’s royal house in Thebes. Creon
was king there, and his decisions, opinions, and judgments were the law in
Thebes. Laws that even superceded the laws of the gods. Creon’s power shows
when he and Heamon are having a conversation; Heamon was angered by his fathers
thought to kill his fiancйe and reacted by questioning. “Protect your
rights? / When you trample down the honors of the gods?” (Schilb 1328). Heamon
was trying to say that Creon’s right to make judgments could not be defended
when those judgments go against the Gods. Creon reacted by saying “Is that so!
/ Now, by heaven, I promise you, you’ll pay- / taunting, insulting me! Bring
her out,/ that hateful- she’ll die now, here, / in front of his eyes, beside
her groom” (1328-1329). This proves as an example of Creon’s power in
Thebes. Antigone did the worst possible thing in Thebes. She defied the power of
her uncle. After Antigone’s brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, killed each
other in combat, Antigone was saddened. What made her feel worse was that
Polynices was not to be buried and paid respect to because Creon did not like
him. Grief-stricken, Antigone decided that she was going to bury her brother no
matter what the cost. So she went ahead and buried her Polynices. Antigone’s
determination was shown in her conversation with her sister Ismene when Antigone
said: Why not? Our own brothers’ burial! / Hasn’t Creon graced one with all
the rites,/ disgraced the other? Eteocles, they say, / has been given full
military honors, / rightly so- Creon’s laid him in the earth/ and he goes with
glory down among the dead. / But the body of Polynices, who died miserably/ -
why, a city-wide proclamation, rumor has it,/ forbids anyone to bury him, even
mourn him. / He’s to be unwept, unburied, a lovely treasure/ for birds that
scan the field and feast to their heart’s content. (1308) Antigone was able to
justify her judgment that it was all right to bury her brother because he
deserved to be mourned just like Eteocles. There was nothing that could have
stopped Antigone from burying her brother. So she listened to her ‘mental
opinions’ and made a decision to bury Polynices. Creon however, could not make
sense of Antigone’s action to bury her brother. When Creon hears about the
burial of Polynices he reacted by saying “What? / What man alive would
dare-“ (1314). This shows that Creon is not used to being defied by people in
his own kingdom. He even thought that the Sentry committed the crime and said to
him "Yes you did- / what’s more, you squandered your life for silver”
(1316). Pleading for help the Sentry reacts saying “Oh it’s a terrible thing
when the one who does the judging judges things all wrong” (1316). Creon
answers by saying; “Well now you just be careful about your judgments- / if
you fail to produce the criminals for me, you’ll swear your dirty money
brought you pain” (1316). A very powerful statement, Creon judged the actions
of others and tried to justify them. However, he could not justify why someone
would go against his word. So in anger he blamed anyone including the Sentry.
That is when the Sentry tells Creon that his perception is out of whack and he
needs to reassess his thoughts. Creon tells the Sentry that unless the Sentry
and his men cannot find the criminal, then the Sentry will be found guilty of
committing the crime. After Creon found out that Antigone committed the crime he
reacted with such shock and said “Prisoner! Her? You took her- where, doing
what? /… What? / You mean what you say, you’re telling me the truth?/…
What did you see? Did you catch her in the act?” (1318) Since Antigone was
family Creon decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. But after Antigone
admitted that she buried Polynices Creon got angry. He was confused about her
actions and decided to punish her by executing her. Then Antigone and Creon
argue upon whether or not Antigone had done a favor to a traitor. Antigone felt
no remorse for going against her kingdom’s law because in her opinion “No
matter- Death longs for the same rites for all” (1322). Basically Antigone and
Creon had different opinions on every issue. Antigone felt she was moral for
paying respects to her brother. While Creon thought that Antigone was a criminal
because she defied his perception and buried a traitor. The action based on
judgments that Antigone took led to her death. And the action that Creon took
based on his judgments led to the death of his son and wife. The death of
Antigone, because of her own judgment and Creon’s actions based on the others
judgments, led to Heamon making the decision based on his own judgments and
decision: to rather die than live without Antigone. This led to the decision of
Eurydice, which was based on all the decisions of judgment made by Antigone,
Creon, and Heamon, to kill herself. And this left Creon all alone because of his
own actions based on his ‘mental opinion’. In all of these judgments, the
one thing that gets clouded was the fact that there was no justice. Everyone
lost. Justice was served to no one because they all had different judgments on
the same course of action. So whose judgment was most justified? Well apparently
Martha Nussbaum, a critic, believes that Antigone’s actions can be more
justified. She states: Antigone’s act shows a deeper understanding of the
community and its values than Creon does when she argues that the obligation to
bury the dead is an unwritten law, which cannot be set aside by the decree of a
particular ruler. The belief that not all values are utility-relative, that
there are certain claims whose neglect will prove deeply destructive of communal
attunement and individual character, is a part of Antigone’s position left
untouched by the play’s implicit criticism of her single-mindedness.” (1348)
This goes to show that Antigone’s actions were based on her beliefs that a
person who has died must be paid his or her respects. However, Creon’s actions
were based on a threat which was Antigone’s testing of his authority. So Creon
did not justify Antigone’s actions because he did not want to. He did not want
his power tested. The bottom line is that there was justice in Antigone’s
judgments that led to the crime that she committed by burying her brother. While
evaluating The Reader, one also sees obvious signs of judgment. Some of the
judgments in The Reader include Hanna’s choice to keep it a secret that she
could not read. If Hanna had told the judge that she was illiterate, then she
might not have been convicted because she would have been unable to write the
reports. During World War II, Hanna participated in the heinous crimes against
the Jews in the concentration camps. However, she is portrayed as an innocent
character in the story. When she is with Michael, Hanna seems held-back as if
she is hiding something, rather than the aggressive one might think she is. An
example of Hanna wanting to hold back is when Michael asked Hanna about her
past. Michael expresses his thoughts: “Things I wanted to know more about had
vanished completely from her mind, and she didn’t understand why I was
interested in what happened to her parents, whether she had had brothers and
sisters, how she had lived in Berlin and what she’d done in the army” (Schlink
39). Hanna simply responded by saying, “The things you ask, kid!” (39) Hanna
once became outrageous and hit Michael because she thought that he left her
alone on the bike trip. Hanna later becomes aggressive when Michael came on to
the streetcar to visit her. She ignored him, and then later blamed the whole
incident on Michael by saying, ”How should I know why you’re going to
Schwetzingen? How should I know why you choose not to know me? It’s your
business, not mine. Would you leave now?” (47) Besides those occurrences,
Hanna was warm and caring to Michael, and that is why he fell in love with her.
She always ran him warm baths and held him tight at night. Michaels judgment was
based on the fact that there was an unpleasant home environment. He said that
one of the happiest moments in his life was on their bike trip together. Michael
described it by saying, “We were never happier than in those weeks of April”
(51). He used this justification to spend a lot of time with her and not his
family members. Hanna toyed (made him extremely happy, sad, mad, and made
Michael feel as if he was in love) with young Michael’s emotions, but her
character was not portrayed as one who could commit a crime against people.
Hanna’s judgments were based on the fact that she had to participate in the
concentration camps. She was not ill willed. One of Hanna’s last wishes was to
take her money and donate it to the Jewish League of Illiteracy. Which she did
not even take the credit for, because Michael was told to use the name Hanna
Schmitz, not Frau, which has her real name. Even the lady in Boston was
surprised, but still angry at Hanna when she found out that Hanna could not read
until she went to prison. That is when it became obvious that Hanna did not
write any reports. So, Hanna’s decision based on her judgments to not tell
anyone that she cannot read got her sent to prison. Even Michael’s decision
not to tell anyone, except his father, that Hanna was illiterate until after her
death, kept Hanna in jail. Hanna did not want anyone to experience a life of
illiteracy, so she donated her savings to a literary organization. So to a
certain extent, Hanna was falsely accused and her punishment was unfair.
Although Hanna did hurt other women in the concentration camp, her character
portrayed her as too innocent to have malice towards others. Hanna just probably
followed orders. As an added incentive to get Hanna to hurt others, the other
concentration camp guards probably told her that the Jews were hurting the
German people. Unable to read or write, Hanna probably trusted what she
constantly heard from the guards around her. Hanna probably felt that Jews were
evil because of this and lead to her actions being justifiable in her own mind.
In many ways, Antigone and Hanna are very similar in their course of action.
Antigone knew she was breaking the law because she deep down in her heart felt
that it was her moral obligation to bury Polynices. To an outsider, Antigone is
just another criminal. But as readers, it is apparent that Antigone was only
doing what she believed in. One may feel sympathetic for Antigone, and think
that Creon is blind to not be able to justify Antigone’s action. Her judgments
seem pure and morally correct. In the same manner, Hanna did commit a crime, and
to the outsider she should have been punished. However, readers can justify her
actions based on certain judgments, knowing that the real character of Hanna
could not read the news around her and was oblivious to what was truly going on
in Germany. Hanna probably thought that she was doing a good thing by hurting
Jews, not knowing that it was really Hitler who was evil. A person is able to
justify Hanna’s actions and feel that her sentence in prison was unjust. It is
thought that she wanted to give back to those who could not read because of her
conversation with Michael about where to donate the savings Hanna had. Since
Antigone’s last action based on pure judgment to bury her brother qualified
her as a tragic hero, Hanna’s last wish based on her judgment to donate money
to the Jewish League Against Illiteracy, should also qualify her as a tragic
hero. And that is why they are both very similar. Their actions based on
judgments left others in the story in a stupor. The people in the story could
not justify the actions that either of the two characters took. However, their
actions based on judgments led them to become tragic heroes. In conclusion, it
has been discussed that judgments and how a persons actions based on their
judgments lead others to perceive them in different ways. However, if certain
actions based on judgments are morally unacceptable, and cannot be justified,
then the person must suffer punishment, whether or not they are at fault. Both
Hanna and Antigone were falsely accused because their actions were not justified
properly in the eyes of those who judged them. They may have committed crimes,
but when looked into carefully, it is evident that their judgments were based on
self-beliefs and were not, including Hanna, meant to hurt anyone else. So
judgments are made, one must be sure that we look into others’ actions before
they make their own judgments.

Schilb, John and John Clifford. Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for
Readers and Writers. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. Schlink,
Bernhard. The Reader. New York, NY: Random House, 1995. “Judgment” The
American Heritage Dictionary. 1994 ed.
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